My mother, Carolyn (Kochevar) Tezak, was born on February 20, 1910, to immigrant parents from Austrian/Yugoslavian towns, which are now part of Slovenia. She was the oldest female of ten children. Mom married my father in 1929. Dad was a road construction foreman, and Mom was a homemaker with three children. And a wonderful homemaker she was.
Wearing a comfortable but practical apron of the day, she especially enjoyed the time she could spend in her heat-filled kitchen, where she perfected the traditional recipes she’d learned from her mother, such as the walnut potica, which was made for all holidays and special occasions like weddings.
The apple strudel, on the other hand, was made whenever she had a notion, and especially when the apples from her bountiful tree were ripe. She couldn’t wait for this time of year, and in the beginning, the strudels would be a little on the tart side because the apples she used would not be quite ripe to eat. But as they ripened and mellowed, they matured into perfect strudel apples.
I remember when stopping by to visit Mom, I could smell the baked-apple aroma before I even walked through the door. To the first time observer, the process of stretching the strudel dough was captivating to see.
Her fingertips discolored by the acid from peeling the apples, she’d use a flowered cloth to stretch the dough so thin it was like tissue paper, and you could see through to the flowers. She displayed the same dexterity and care with each batch, placing it in a piping hot oven and standing watch so it didn’t burn. After everyone in the family and the neighborhood received at least one strudel, Mom baked for my friends and colleagues and anyone she’d met that she liked, including her doctor and dentist. One apple season, she shared 117 strudels!
Now that Mom has passed on, I don’t want my family to ever forget their tiny little Gramma and her delicious tradition of sharing through her baking. So several times a year and especially at Christmas, I put on one of her aprons, take out her much experienced rolling pin and using her recipes, I make batches of baked goods for my family and friends.
"My mother's strudels were gifts from the heart." ~ Carol Kyte
Text © EllynAnne Geisel