Every time we have a holiday and I solicit requests, that's the answer I get from my brother: "apple streudel." That and Pupaki, a bread dish.
They're dishes that just feel like home to us. Each time we went to Wisconsin, my grandmother would make our most-requested dishes. And usually that involved her lugging up a five-gallon bucket of diced apples from the freezer to make apple streudel. It's a long process that involves eating up your entire kitchen table and a few hours before it's done. And my grandmother and us would work to spread out the apples, the sugar, the cinnamon, then roll it up in the sheet and prepare it for baking.
I can't tell you how many photographs were taken over the years that involved making streudel, but it was a definite rite of passage. My husband was called into service on one visit. My grandfather even was put to work when my grandmother had injured her arm. No one was immune.
And so, years later, streudel is still part of our family tradition. Many of us cousins shake our head at our failed attempts - mine, most notably by commiting the blasphemy one Christmas of trying to make it with some kind of fake butter. Somehow, it never seems to be quite right.
But still we try. We would whack up our apples on Christmas Eve, my brother and I cracking jokes and ultimately tossing apples at each other. And I still fondly recall the Christmas, where my 18-month-old little girl stood on tip-toes to try to line the apple pieces oh-so-carefully along the edge of the dough. Alongside her was her mom and her siblings, in town from miles away.
Tonight, on an unseasonably warm evening in September, I realized what made it special. It's not streudel time, but I thought of it as I was dicing another bag of apples from our babysitter. This time, instead of making just an overnight batch of applesauce, I thought I'd hold some back in the freezer for Christmas baking.
And tonight, I stood at the table in the silence, cutting up apples to freeze. And it just wasn't the same. Something was missing.
Really, it's not just about the food. It's about family.
Grandma Johnson's Apple Streudel
4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup lard or shortening (we use butter or margarine)
2 beaten eggs
1 cup warm water
2 quarts peeled and sliced apples(or more)
2 cups sugar
2 handfuls of Corn Flakes
1/2 cup raisins
Mix flour, salt and shortening. Add the eggs and enough warm water to make a soft dough. Knead on floured board until smooth and elastic (the longer you knead the better it pulls later). Cover with a bowl and let rest about 2 hours.
Cover table with a large cloth. Sprinkle cloth all over with flour. Roll dough long and narrow to get it started. Then put hand under the dough and keep stretching dough gently until it is very thin, trying not to tear it.
When dough is stretched very thin, scatter the sliced, cut up apples all over the dough. Sprinkle with the sugar, cinnamon, raisins and the crushed Corn Flake crumbs (or you may use 1 cup fried bread crumbs).
Roll up into a long roll. You may do this by raising one side of the cloth and the strudle will roll up by itself. Cut the roll in half. Place streudel rolled with open side up, on two greased cookie sheets with four sides. Pinch ends shut. Grease top with melted butter or margarine.
Put in 400 degrees oven for 15 min. Then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake about 45 min. more until brown. Remove from oven. Cut into 3-inch pieces. Remove from pan while hot using a pancake turner. Is best when warm.
Note: The dough pulls easier in a warm room rather than in a cold one.