A recollection of my Croatian Grandmother and Apple Strudel sits in an indistinct corner of my Memory. I have no specific Memories, just feelings. Or perhaps it is rather a kind of gravitational pull.
Grandma Dora lived in Des Moines until I was 11. When we would visit her, she and my 2 Aunts would prepare a table laden Croatian Feast for my Father. I am sure the extravaganza was for my Mother, Brother and me too, but it was not our Heritage in the same way.
That little Bubble at 1111 East Ninth was surely a remnant and sacred haven of the Old Country. My Father, his Mother, and his 2 Sisters were on fire with their own Language and Laughter besides. My Mother, Brother (who was quite small) and I just sat on the sidelines and watched. I remember volumes of Foods and Aromas which were not a part of my experience at home. I do not specifically remember Apple Strudel.
From the time I was 11 until I was 14, Grandma and Aunt Anna lived in California. We only visited them once, albeit brief. I don't remember anything about Croatian Food being served there. My recollections of Disney Land are a bit more distinct.
Grandma and Aunt Anna returned to Kirksville, because Grandma was on decline and Aunt Anna's 2 Siblings (my Father and Aunt Mary) wanted to be more present in her Life during those remaining years. I remember very little of her cooking then; mostly Aunt Ann cooked and she did prepare Croatian fare, but we ate at home. Grandma Dora passed when I was 18; she was in her mid 80s.
I do know Grandma Dora made a variety of Povitica filled with Apples. I have no specific memories of her fixing Apple Strudel, just that fuzzy little pull that draws me to this wonderful pastry.
When Melanie and I were in Fuzine, Croatia, in 2002 on the Family Heritage Tour, we were served Apple Strudel hot from the Oven by one of the Ladies. The Visual Image, Aroma, and Flavor just clicked, as if touching a place where some treasured memories had been carefully stored away.
In cruising the Ethnic Cookbook from Novinger, my fingers danced into the text and landed right on a recipe for Apple Strudel. Melanie and I made it today. I couldn't wait. While we did not have a teacher (other than the book), we approached this noble experiment of reclaiming a family tradition. It wasn't exactly right, but I think it was close.
I got the dough started and Melanie finished it. By this recipe, you slap the dough down, pull up as to stretch, then slap it down again. This is repeated 100 times. Essentially you are kneading and developing the Gluten (stretchiness) of the Dough. This will allow it to be stretched very thin, which is a signature of Apple Strudel.
For the next step, we laid out 2 Tea Towels. An old Sheet would work fine, but we didn't have one. The Towels were dusted with flour. Rolling out begins.
When the dough is of significant size, the Rolling Pin is put away. The stretching begins. We weren't exactly sure what we were doing, but we did learn as we went. We stretched from the middle with a hand over hand motion toward the outer edge. The 2 of us worked on opposite sides. We tried to be careful not to tear the Dough because it will not mend. This was hard, but we did a pretty good job. While not long by any means, my left thumb nail should have been trimmed.Dough should be stretched until it is tissue paper thin. Then it is brushed with melted Butter. Thinly sliced Apples are spread over half of the Dough. Then Sugar is sprinkled across the Apples. We used equal parts of Rapadura and White Sugar. We cut the total amount of Sugar in half.We also scattered chopped Pecans. The Recipe called for Almonds, which would have been a better choice. We did not have Almonds but had Pecans. Then we sprinkled Nutmeg on top. The Nutmeg would have been better mixed with the Sugar as the amount was only a Pinch. Have your ever tried to sprinkle a "Pinch"?Then the Rolling up begins. We started it gently by hand and then used the Fabric to create a roling process. The Recipe suggested it and it worked great.The Roll was laid out in a spiral, similar to Povitica. We were careful to make sure loose ends were secured.Then we brushed the Strudel with melted Butter. The Strudel went into the Oven. About 40 minutes later, we had quite a treat.
While the Strudel was in the Oven, I headed to our collection of Photos from our Trip to Croatia. My Fingers headed right to the Photo of the Woman Serving us Apple Strudel. When our Strudel was done, we did some comparisons between hers and ours.
Melanie and I think we need to tweak the process a bit. We need to stretch the Dough so that it is closer to Tissue Paper thin-ness. We put melted Butter on the Strudel every 10 minutes while it was in the oven. That's what the Recipe suggested. We put on a little too much. The Apple Filling was excellent. We did leave the Peels on, which gave it a rosy Glow. With these Apples (Jonathans from Rolf and Ilse's tree), you could decrease the Sugar further. Melanie would probably brown it a bit more too.
We both conclude that we did a great job for the 1st time. It isn't like it is going to waste. The Chickens aren't going to get any of it, because it is fast disappearing. Maybe next time, we will have some to share with 2 Croatian Ladies of Dad's generation and other Croatian Descendants in town. That's the plan.