Nancy Shields still remembers the take from when she and her older sister, Helen Beveridge, first sold food at the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair.
“Seventy-nine cents in a Styrofoam coffee cup,” Shields said.
That was in 1972. Since then, to say the least, business has gotten better.
Shields, of Pleasant Gap, and Beveridge, of Philipsburg, joined by other siblings and family members, work hard to serve a steady stream of customers. Long lines regularly form at their Rhone Avenue booth, everyone waiting for Beveridge’s celebrated pierogies, haluski and its delectable cabbage and fried noodles and the stuffed cabbage known as halupki.
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But the pierogies are the big draw.
Monday, there was talk in the Helen’s Pierogi Place booth of rationing so the pierogies don’t sell out before the fair ends Thursday.
“We’ve come a long ways, Nancy,” said Beveridge, aka “The Pierogi Lady,” leaning against the booth counter at her 42nd fair.
In July, Beveridge turned 90, but she’s showing no signs of slowing down.
This year, she led the making of 17,000 pierogies from just after Memorial Day to the fair. Daily in a rented upstairs kitchen at the Philipsburg VFW Post 3450, she rolled out and pinched dough like her Austrian mother taught her in Philipsburg.
“I got up at 6 in the morning, then my help came at 9 a.m.,” she said of her summer project.
Many pitched in, but the main assistants were sisters Dorothy Sudik and Verna Cazp and nieces Jennifer Marx and Dolly Williams. Together, they made as many as 800 pierogies a day.
They’re sold for $1 each, plain if you wish, or covered with either melted butter and caramelized onions or Beveridge’s special white sauce.
Apparently, they’re more popular than ever. Starting at noon Sunday, they went like, well, hotcakes.
“We had a solid line until 9 at night,” Shields said. “We’ve never had that.”
At first, they sold just halupki, their Rhone Avenue booth so small they could fetch food in the back for customers in one pivot. The problem was, they weren’t turning much.
Beveridge added pierogies but sales remained modest. She gave the booth five years to catch fire, or else she would quit. It met the deadline, possibly helped by a visit from then-Gov. Milton Shapp.
Over the years, the booth has grown, keeping pace with demand. Shields said her sister’s secret lies in the seasonings.
“She just knows how to season her food,” she said.
Beveridge said she’ll even make large custom orders for pierogies at home, as one Bellefonte man recently requested at the fair.
“I said, ‘Well, I don’t deliver,’ ” she said. “He said, ‘Well, I’ll come and get it.’ ”
Her hands, those of an artist to pierogi fans, might stay busy after the fair for another reason. Her family is throwing a belated birthday party for her.
“Guess who has to make the pierogies and stuffed cabbage?” Shields said, gesturing at Beveridge.
But the Pierogi Lady doesn’t mind. She lives for cooking. In the booth, she’ll rest — but only until the white sauce starts running low.
Then it’s back to work.
“I don’t want them making it anyway,” she said. “I want to make the sauce.”