When Sophie Gorski was a little girl growing up in Wagner's Point, Lent was a somber and sober season.
She remembered it yesterday while spooning mashed potatoes into half-moon pockets of egg dough at the Lemko House senior center on Ann Street.
"Oh it was very strict," said Mrs. Gorski, 79. "You couldn't eat between meals, there was only one heavy meal a day, no meat on Wednesday or Friday, and on Holy Saturday you had to wait until noon to eat anything. And you spent a lot of time in church. They're not as strict now as they were."
It doesn't take a theologian to know that Catholics aren't as strict now as they were in Sophie Gorski's childhood, austere days going back before the Great Depression when it was forbidden to laugh or sing or play the radio on Good Friday.
But a few neighborhood traditions surrounding the 40 days of fasting and penitence leading to Easter Sunday have survived in Baltimore's old Eastern European Catholic neighborhoods from Broadway to Highlandtown.
Like eating pierogi on Friday instead of meat.
Imagine a rolled-out circle of dough made from egg and flour and folded in half, its cavity stuffed with cottage cheese or sauerkraut or spiced mashed potatoes and gently closed by a grandmother's fingers crimping the edges of the crescent.
The delicate little pillows are boiled tender, sauteed in butter and onion, and served.
Which is what the nice ladies at the Lemko House did about 4,000 times yesterday, using six dozen eggs, their collective memories, and almost all the hours of the day.
"Oh boy, I was born and raised on pierogi," said Rosalie Harthausen, sitting across from Mrs. Gorski in the production line yesterday. "My mother made ones about three times this size. When you ate six of my mother's pierogi you knew you were eating pierogi."
The Lenten practice has been going on at east side churches and senior centers for the past four Fridays, with two more to go beforeEaster. Some churches also do codfish or crab cakes, but at Lemko its strictly carry-out pierogi -- $3.50 for a dozen of cheese and $3 a dozen for sauerkraut or potato.
The money raised supports various projects of Father Ivan Dornick, an Eastern Catholic priest and founder of Lemko House.
"We are keeping the old tradition of fasting from meat," he said, watching the women roll the dough. "And the traditional meal is pierogi."
So traditional are the tastes and tongues of the Lemko residents that if Iryna Smetaniuk closes her eyes she can forget, for a moment, where she is.
"Here I don't feel that I am in America," she said, an electrical engineer from the Ukraine who is visiting relatives in Baltimore and has been showing up on Fridays to help the older women. "All these Ukrainians! They speak very good native language, they even have the accents from home even after they've been in America 20, 40 years."
Betty Eichler also has the accent, but its pure Baltimore, a native tongue lathered with 73 years of life on the Patapsco. And she never ate a pierogi in her life until she moved into Lemko House.
"I'm a lousy one for making 'em," she said. "They hit me on the behind this morning and said: 'You ain't doing 'em right, you ain't closing 'em up right, so I peeled the onions instead. The ones I made looked like I was patting an oyster. Hey, I can pat oysters good."