(Warning: Extended Metaphor Ahead)
from Jody FeldmanI’d decided. For an upcoming family event, I was going to make my grandmother’s strudel. I embarked upon this mission in sort of the same way I went about writing my first novel—semi-blind.
I had happened, once, on my grandmother while she was making strudel, and I had sort of helped my mom do this a couple times, but I’d never taken part in the process from beginning to delicious end. With neither of them here to guide me, I struck out on my own.
I had a recipe, sure. Like many complicated recipes passed down from generation to generation, though, I had an ingredient list and I had an outline of steps, but the important details were missing. (I was lucky actually. Some of my grandmother’s recipes are ingredient lists only.)
I jumped into the process this past Sunday.
The filling was easy; just mix up everything then adjust for taste. It was the dough, the part that held it all together, that would be the ultimate challenge. The thin layers that wrap around the filling start out as flour and water and other ingredients which you mix then let sit for an hour. I won’t go into details, but here’s my first batch of dough.
I needed to figure out where I went wrong.
I took a shower.
And as showers often do, this one worked again. Thinking about my grandmother’s simple instructions—knead dough, divide into thirds, brush with oil, and rest on board for 60 minutes—I realized that similar to bread dough (though this has no yeast), she must have kneaded in more flour than the recipe called for. I probably worked in at least another cup, and this batch had substance. Again, I let it rest to prepare for what was to come.
That one time I walked into my grandmother’s apartment, I couldn’t comprehend how such a small ball of dough could eventually be stretched enough to hang over the edges of her kitchen table like a second tablecloth. And now it was my turn to coax my ball of dough into the same thinness. As it grew and grew and took the shape it needed, I was suddenly struck by the fact that, underneath it all, I began to see the pattern of the tablecloth, one that’s older than me, with all its memories and emotions.
With that foundation as my cheerleader, I kept working the dough until it was like a thin veil that covered the history on that table. At one point, I somehow knew it was time to move on, to sprinkle on more flavors, roll everything together, put it in the oven, and see how it came out. Then it was time to start over again with the second ball of dough, then the third. Each time, I was armed with more knowledge and more confidence, yet until the ball became a sheer sheet, I didn’t know if I was capable of doing it again then again.
Nearly 6 hours after I first started (don’t ask about the giant oil spill), when I dissected the last lengths of cooked strudel and I took a bite, I realized I had shared some history with those whose path I’d followed. And it tasted wonderful.