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.

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