‘If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.’
In German cuisine, there is no ‘pie’ as such. The closest you can get is torte. Strudel is very much like pie, as it contains both pastry and fruit filling.
Further, apple strudel is the centre of the universe when it comes to German cuisine.
So, in the spirit of the late, great Carl Sagan, allow me to present this homage to a childhood memory drenched in the popular German epicurean delight: Strudel.
Imagine if you will…
…a very young girl, with a Mother who works full time.
A working Mother was unusual in the German community that I grew up in. My Grandfather had been a pastor at a German Baptist church in Toronto, so I knew just about everyone in the congregation. I knew no other Mother who worked outside the home.
There were senior women from the church who would volunteer their time to visit young households and show the novice housewives how to prepare an apple strudel from scratch.
No doubt, the thought that there were German homes with children who never had fresh apple strudel must have been unthinkable to these women who donated their time, patience and baking expertise.
This is what I remember…
On the designated day, Oma Haas would show up at our home very early in the morning.
(Oma is the German word for Grandmother… She wasn’t my Grandmother however, Oma was used as a term of endearment and respect. She may have been my Grandfather’s cousin… *sigh* …but I digress)
The first order of of the day would be would begin with the peeling of apples.
It seemed as Mother and Oma Haas were peeling apples for hours. There must have been a whole bushel involved. All you could smell was apples. As soon as they were peeled the naked apples would be given a bath in a large bowl filled with lemon juice and water to help preserve freshness as it would be quite awhile before they made it into the oven.
There was still so much work to be done.
After the apples were peeled, bathed and dried, they were then finely sliced and chopped. There were mounds and mounds of apples. It was as if our home had been invaded by them.
The next thing I remember is the preparation of the dough. It took a lot of flour, elbow grease and kneading to make this dough perfect. Oma Haas would accept nothing less.
After it had been prepared a large clean white cloth was placed over the kitchen table. Next the dough was rolled out, and rolled and rolled. Meticulous fingers were used to prod and coax the dough until it covered the entire table and hung over the sides. Any rips or holes were carefully mended. At this point the dough was so thin that you could almost see through it. Then it was carefully brushed with butter so it wouldn’t dry out too quickly.
Even at my age, I was impressed at the precision Oma Haas displayed in her work. She knew exactly what to do and when to do it. Mother didn’t dare second guess her. She followed orders and did as she was told. There was little conversation as Mother and Oma Haas worked, as there was a whole lot of concentration going on.
The apples were then strewn across the table along with sugar, cinnamon and raisins. At this point, it looked like my Mother and Oma Haas were having lots of fun. However, I was strictly verboten from touching anything. Still, I snuck a piece of apple whenever I could.
Then came the most interesting part. One side of the white tablecloth was lifted high and manipulated in a waving motion so that the dough rolled up all by itself without being touched by hand. It made for a very long apple jelly roll.
When rolling was completed, the strudel was cut into pieces to fit into the baking pans. There was lots and lots of strudel to bake, so it could not go into the oven all at once.
I remember the final strudel came out of the oven late in the afternoon. Then it was time to clean the kitchen.
By the time it was all over, we had a fridge full of strudel. Oma Haas took some strudel to share with her family and other members of the church congregation.
Those were different times indeed. There was no canned apple filling, no phyllo dough, no store bought apple strudel.
Just determination, discipline, compassion for others and a commitment to preserve the old ways as long as possible…
…As well as the love for a good homemade apple strudel.