Aunt Rosa was my mother’s sister, and she lived with us most of my growing up years. I was the youngest member of our extended family, so I was home with Aunt Rosa while everyone was at school or at work. The most magical food I watched being prepared in my childhood home was apple strudel, and it was my Aunt Rosa’s specialty.
She would spill a few ingredients on the kitchen table and work them with her hands until they became an elastic ball of dough. Then she would spread a flowered tablecloth on the table, sprinkle it with white flour, and slap the dough in the middle of the table. She would begin pulling at the dough from the side, stretching it a little at a time. She walked around the table so she could gently pull it toward herself from every angle. It got bigger and thinner, and the flowers in the tablecloth would begin to show through. When it was transparent enough, she would go to one end of the table and begin to sprinkle apple chunks and raisins and nuts on the end of the dough. Then she would top it off with a shower of cinnamon and sugar. It smelled like heaven.
Now it was time to roll the whole mixture up in the dough, and she lifted the end of the tablecloth so the dough would slowly roll into a long tube filled with the sweet apple mixture. Now came the feat of putting it into a square pan without breaking the thin, fragile strudel skin. She gently and quickly lifted the roll, making the turns skillfully to form a coiled snake on the baking sheet.
We had no baking oven, so we had to walk it quickly around the block to the bakery, where they put the pan on a huge wooden paddle and slid it into their enormous brick oven. They called Aunt Rosa “the snake lady.” Forty-five minutes later, we would go back to retrieve the magnificent masterpiece and carry it home on a thick bath towel.
I would now have to experience the agony of waiting until it was cooled enough to get to taste the coveted end piece while it was still warm. It was handed to me on a napkin, and the cinnamon-flavored apples were hot and soft and the nuts were still crunchy and the raisins had plumped into juicy, chewy bombs of sweetness. It would never taste quite that exquisite again, and I was lucky enough to be the one to experience it. What a glorious childhood memory!