Rachel Monnin's hand was shaking as she plated her pulled pork pierogi for the judges of the fourth annual Buffalo's Best Pierogi Contest.
The shakes resulted partly from nervous jitters, partly from fatigue. She experimented with peach, sausage and cheese, sauerkraut and bacon, and cheeseburger fillings for her debut entry. Once she settled on pulled pork, she made several dozen by hand for family members.
"You can't just make 10 pierogi -- at least not in my house," she said.
More than 500 people packed the tent Saturday outside Corpus Christi Catholic Church on Clark Street in the heart of Buffalo's historic Polonia district. The contest coincides with the three-day Dozynki Polish Harvest Festival, which the church has held for more than 30 years.
The contest started in 2007 with seven contestants. This year it boasted more than 30.
"It's almost overwhelming because the response has been so incredible," said Christopher Byrd, the event's organizer and a Dozynki Festival committee member. "Events like this are a testament to the Broadway Fillmore neighborhood. People don't want to let it go."
Lynn Rosati of Lancaster learned how to make the Polish dumplings from her grandmother, who once operated a stand in the Broadway Market. She used her recipe for traditional sauerkraut pierogi and snagged first place.
Her tips for aspiring pierogi makers?
"Don't give up. The first time I made them, they broke open [when I boiled them]; they were waterlogged, the dough was too thick," she said. "It all depends on the dough. If it's right, you won't need water to seal the ends. If it doesn't feel right, throw it out and start over."
Nancy Konieczny of Akron and her daughter Kristen Sikora of Franklinville waited nervously for officials to whisk their entry off to the 14 judges as polka music played in the background.
"I'm more nervous today than I was on my wedding day," Konieczny said.
They snagged second place in the traditional category, using Kristen's paternal grandmother's recipe for sauerkraut pierogi, which calls for salt pork, mushrooms, sour cream and onion butter.
Sauerkraut pierogi made by Paula Sepanik of Elma placed third in the traditional category. She has been making pierogi since she was 5 years old, using a recipe her grandmother Estelle brought from Poland in 1903. She regularly makes at least 40 dozen each Christmas.
"If you're going to do it, you've got to do it big," she said.
Vince Karam, owner of the Greek to Me diner in the Town of Tonawanda, won first prize for the second year in a row in the nontraditional category with a spinach, feta and tomato pierogi in tzatziki dipping sauce. Second place went to Sharon Dombak of Amherst who made a blueberry pierogi, while Debbie Wisholek of Lackawanna landed in third with her reuben-style pierogi.
Other nontraditional pierogi fillings included Buffalo-style chicken wing with blue cheese and Frank's Red Hot sauce by Donna Guzdek of Cheektowaga, zucchini by Karen and Emily Polonkiewicz of Orchard Park, stuffed hot pepper by Sarah Polonkiewicz of Orchard Park, banana pepper and cheese by Andy Ruszczyk of Hamburg and super steak hoagie by Colleen Brzyski of Depew.
"I made 1,100 of them for Christmas, and people hound me for them," Brzyski said.
All three commercial-category winners entered traditional farmer's cheese pierogi. In first place were Joyce and Tim Chrostowski of Homestyle Dinners and Catering. Second place went to Rick Nowak of Nowak Catering in Buffalo, while Chris Taylor of Roaming Buffalo landed in third.
Winners received a six-pack of Polish Tyskie beer, a Corpus Christi Church T-shirt and a plaque.