Friday, May 28, 2010

Some Delicious Memories

I grew up in Budapest. My mother and grandmother were amazing bakers. My grandmother would make her own challah bread every single week. They were beautiful and huge (about the size of a keyboard) braided just so, and the top covered in poppy seeds. It was crunchy on the outside and fluffy and soft on the inside. Every Friday she’d also make some kind of coffee cake or other yeast bread. Her brother owned a fancy pastry shop. She was such an accomplished person at making fruit preserves (they would last for years and never spoil) that he used them in his baking and sold them in jars in his store. They were of exceptional quality.

Every Saturday my grandmother would make a whole variety of strudels that were just incredible—sweet strudels (tart cherries, walnuts with sugar, poppyseed0 and cabbage strudels. It amazingly took her no time whatsoever. We had a huge dining room table; here she would stretch the dough, blow underneath it, stretch the dough some more, and blow under it some more. There were never any holes. They were exquisite but she thought there was nothing to it. She taught me to cook lots of things but she said I was in no way ready to graduate to strudel making so I never learned that. She preserved everything but was so happy when they started to sell canned tomato sauce in the market because it was such a mess and so much work to make. She would preserve meat by covering it completely in fat and it would last for a very long time. Our huge pantry was stocked with big jars of what she had preserved— plums, peaches, strawberries, cherries, gooseberries. She was a fabulous cook but the big deal was the goose that she would cook on Saturday! We loved to eat and were rather chubby back then.

During the war my family had an acquaintance who owned a very fine pastry shop. My mother and grandma decided that they would apprentice themselves to this gentleman. My mother was an artist and did amazing, beautiful pastries that were to perfection. Her cinnamon rolls were about 1½ in wide and tall, with the thinnest layers of pastry and a generous portion of cinnamon or cocoa sprinkled in between. She made cakes not to be believed. Her hands were a gem. After the war, when we came back from the Jewish ghetto, sick and undernourished, this pastry shop owner, who was a Gentile, was the first one who showed up at our doorstep, laden with goodies. He brought a jar of fresh strawberry jam and I portioned it out one spoonful a day – I still cherish strawberry jam to this day.

We lived in an apartment building overlooking the Danube. There were incredible specialty shops on our street. One was a butcher shop with curving marble counter tops with a huge fish tank below it for show; and there were lots of specialty cheese shops. My folks were great friends with the fish monger and his wife who was a huge buxom lady with arms that glistened with rendered fat because they also sold goose there. Everyone always talked about the size of the goose liver. It was like a treasure hunt because you never knew exactly what you would get. We also had “spring chickens” about the size of a Cornish game hen. Inside of them were tiny eggs (smaller than a Lindt chocolate truffle) which only had yolks. We put them in the chicken soup—the egg was a special delicacy. Until all hell broke loose life was very good.

Veronica R.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I Wish I Had A Recipe For Those Dumplings...

My grandmother owned and ran a tavern and small restaurant in the city of West Allis, Wisconsin, an industrial city adjacent to Milwaukee, when there were taverns on every block and at a time when kids could run over and get a pitcher of beer for their parents at home. The tavern was situated across the street from a factory where they forged steel and further down the street from Allis Chalmers Tractor Company. The neighborhood was primarily central European families, who worked at these factories and they lived in triple-decker homes. Adjacent to her tavern was an outdoor farmer’s market which was a permanent structure with long rows of tables and awnings over each row.

My grandmother was originally from a small town in southern Wisconsin where Swiss and German immigrants settled and farmed and produced limburger cheese in small cheese houses beside the barns. The families of this town brought with them recipes from their European homelands and my grandmother incorporated them into her menu at her tavern.

On farmer’s market days she cooked, in addition to her regular lunch menu, one or two special dishes for the farmers. I remember her serving stuffed pork chops, wiener- schnitzel, and sauerbraten on those heavy divided china plates that could bend your wrists back with their weight. There were often customers lined out the door waiting to get in.

Her most popular item and her specialty was a chicken soup with farina dumplings which I never got the recipe for and which I have been tying to reproduce for many years. I remember vats of chicken stock sitting on the large window sills cooling so that the fat could be removed at the top. Then she would put in the vegetables and chicken, and simmer the soup before adding her killer dumplings. I even made them with her a few times, but she never had written recipes and I was too young to pay attention to proportions. The dumplings were light and penetrated with the chicken stock. The smell of the chicken dumpling soup would waft out of her kitchen and permeate the entire neighborhood, which is maybe why she always sold out of that soup each day. It may be that I will never be able to reproduce her soup. The ingredients were less mass- produced at that time and stewing chickens were raised differently and then there is the fact that I just can’t get the dumplings right.

Mary B.