“If God had intended us to follow recipes, He wouldn’t have given us grandmothers.” — Linda Henley
My mother was never much of a baker. Her specialties were Toll House chocolate chip cookies, boxed cake mix creations for our birthdays, and the occasional angel food cake. At our house on Kolmar Avenue, there were usually pints of Walgreen’s ice cream in the freezer, a can of Hershey’s syrup in the fridge, Salerno butter cookies in the tin, and sometimes those marshmallow cookies covered in sprinkles – although we usually devoured those gooey concoctions as we unloaded the grocery bags. I guess because my mother had witnessed the baking processes of her mother, she had no desire to replicate those all-day affairs with dough.
One of my grandmother’s specialties, according to my mother, was something called tsieg (German for pull) strudel. First, Grandma would spread a white tablecloth out on the kitchen table. Then, she mixed the dough, rolling it out on the table. She rolled, pulled the dough, rolled, pulled the dough, walking around and around the table to stretch the dough to the edge. If a hole appeared, she patched it, then continue the process—roll, pull, pull. When the dough was spread to the tables’ edge, she sprinkled it with a bit of vegetable oil and then spread cottage cheese over the entire table. Next, she pulled up the side of the tablecloth and rolled the dough into a cheese-filled log large enough to fill a nine by thirteen pan three times. Then, Grandma sprinkled on a bit more oil and baked it. She served it crispy and warm, right out of the oven, in four inch cheese-oozing chunks, to go along with the no-meat-Friday bowls of tomato soup.
While I don’t think I’ve ever tasted the tsieg strudel, I have fond memories of Grandma’s raisin strudel, and I’m attaching the recipe here. Some of her spelling is unconventional, since English was her second language, so I’ll translate: aest is yeast; Plase in esbax is Place in icebox.
Krapfa, her version of jelly donuts, was a treat she made when my Worcester cousins were visiting and we were all at the lake house. Grandma mixed the dough in the evening and let it sit on the counter overnight, covered in a dish cloth. Then, she rolled the dough and cut it into circles, plunging them into a pot of hot oil. When they were fried, she rolled them in sugar. We stuck spoons of jelly into them and wolfed them down in minutes. Good thing we rarely let them sit around for later. While delicious when warm, they turned into hard clumps, like greasy softballs, within an hour.
And then there were her kipfls, her signature sweet. Kipfl are similar to the Polish kolachky, but the dough isn’t flakey; it’s thick. These were jelly-filled, too, and when they baked, the jelly oozed out and often burned the pastry bottom. I was never much of a kipfl fan, but everyone else was, so I kept my mouth shut and rarely ate one. My husband loved them, and when he raved about them to Grandma, he instantly became the apple of her eye. When my Uncle Al died, Grandma took boxes of them on the train to Massachusetts for his funeral. She was miffed when my grieving cousins and aunt didn’t set them out for the other mourners and thus no one showered her with kipfl compliments. Even though the family explained that they held back the kipfls so that they could enjoy them, Grandma’s irritation became a dramatic sidebar to the sadness.
When Grandma died in 1979, the kipfl-making went with her. My mother made them once, but she had no time or patience for the project. Still, it was a Christmas tradition of hers to pass out tins of her baked goodies – those chocolate cookies with raisins and her chocolate chips. This too has gone by the wayside. Yet, we still have sweet treats to enjoy. My sister-in-law Jill arrives every Christmas Day with her big Longaberger basket loaded with deliciousness, and my granddaughter Maggie makes scrumptious cupcakes from scratch.
I, on the other hand, have taken a cue from my mother. I make good salads, a fantastic beef tenderloin, and some nice pasta dishes, but dessert? Not so much. When the grandkids come over, they know that probably there are ice cream bars in the freezer. And who doesn’t like ice cream?