Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Strudel

I'm heading to Baltimore this afternoon for Thanksgiving and decided to make my Nana's Apricot Strudel for the holiday. We discovered the recipe after she died, written on a yellowed index card with barely any instructions, just a list of ingredients and oven baking time and temperature.

I have such strong memories of her strudel, and have tied them in my memory to her identity. She was the buttery, sweet apricot deliciousness with the slight bitterness of the walnuts and coconut. Especially her apricot colored hair, always coiffed into a sleek helmet of browning blonde, framing her plump, rosy cheeks and big brown eyes.

Every summer, I would get a package at camp with a big, blue Danish cookie tin filled with the strudel, layered with lace doilies. Inside each little treasured piece, was apricot, coconut and walnut filling and it's hard to describe how it all formed a satisfying paste inside the flakey butter crust, but it was so good and I hate to think I didn't share, but I probably hoarded it....

I wish I could transfer the comforting, delicious smell of butter and warm apricot in my kitchen right now through the internet to you... I made the dough yesterday and left it in the refrigerator to rest and come together. It's 1/2 a lb of salted butter, 1 pint of sour cream (a cup) and 2 cups of All Purpose Flour sifted and combined with the other ingredients. I creamed them in my Cuisinart,( my lazy short cut around a handheld mixer).

This morning I woke up early and got out my wooden pastry board (which my Nana used to roll hers out on, though hers was smaller) and divided the dough into four parts and rolled them out into rectangles. Along one side, I smeared Apricot preserves (from McCutcheon's in Maryland) and then sprinkled it with chopped walnuts and shredded coconut and rolled it into a long tube and laid them on parchment paper to bake in a 425 degree oven. I have a feeling, now that I've baked them, that she probably made a mixture of the preserves, nuts and coconut, but hey, this is my unique version and maybe I'll do another batch in Baltimore and teach my niece how to do it.

My grandfather had a job that took them all over the world and if they had something he really liked, he would point to it and say, "Betty, learn how to make that" and she did. I don't know where the strudel recipe came in, probably from our Austrian ancestors, maybe her mother used to make it and she learned it there. I'll never know, now that she's gone and my Aunt Marge is gone too.

I remember her in her kitchen bustling around and making the strudel, I think it was one of the only times I saw her make it and she was attempting to teach me how, though she was impatient and kept correcting me, "No, No, that's all wrong" and then taking over the rolling pin to do it the right way. She wore a hostess apron tied over her immaculate, custom-made dress to keep from getting flour on herself. I have to admit, she was a cranky fusspot with a great sense of humor and a searing commentary on all who crossed her path the wrong way. And I think at the bottom of it all, she wanted to be loved and approved of, just like all of us and the easiest way to reach this was through cooking and baking.

Mine don't look the way hers did, I wish I remembered more of that lesson, but the taste, oh the tasted, brings it all back to me...I think I have her to thank for my love of food and flair for flavor, so it seems appropriate to honor her memory with my own strudel of love. Happy Thanksgiving!