I grew up with the knowledge that my Dad’s parents came to the U.S. from Yugoslavia in the very early 1900s. I understand now that Yugoslavia was a union of countries at the time, but the area where my grandparents came from was Kucur, Backa, in the province of Vojvodina, in what is Serbia, today. My Yugoslav, or Serbian, grandparents lived on a farm in rural Ohio. They had chickens, so eggs were plentiful. They grew crops. They lived far differently than my Mom’s town folk during the Depression and World Wars. My Mom recalled that early in her engagement with my Dad, she went over to his parents’ house after church one Sunday, for breakfast. She was appalled that Grandma had more than 13 eggs in a bowl, to make scrambled eggs. She felt it was nearly obscene to have that many eggs for a family of five. That brought home to me the huge differences between town and country in those times.
I really never knew my grandpa as he passed on before I was 2 years old, but I recall my Yugoslav Grandma most for her desserts. There was no one better. It was her one hobby, for lack of better word. She made strudel from fine flaky dough similar to phyllo and filled with poppy seed, nuts or cheese. She made Kifli, flaky little pastries that were rolled out into squares and filled with things like Prune Lekvar, ground poppy seed filling and apricot filling. Here is the Kifli recipe I use.
1 1/2 tsp instant dry yeast, about half a packet
3 cups flour
1/4 pound lard
1/4 pound unsalted butter
1 egg, whisked
1/4 cup whipping cream, or heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup poppyseed filling, prune Lekvar or apricot filling
confectioner’s sugar, for rolling and sprinkling
Crumble cake yeast or instant dried yeast into flour. Work in the lard and butter as for pie dough. Add egg and cream and work with hands until the dough pulls from sides of the bowl. Do not over mix.
Sprinkle your work area with powdered sugar and roll out a portion of the dough. Using confectioners’ sugar to roll the dough is important as adding more flour would toughen the dough. Cut rolled dough into 3-inch squares.
Fill these small squares by placing a scant teaspoon of filling of your choice in the center. Bring up opposing corners, dampen the edges with milk or cream and pinch together, then fold the pinched piece over. Bake on parchment lined cookie sheets for 15 to 18 minutes at 375 degrees. Bottoms will be golden and tops will just start to become golden color. Remove from oven, place on a rack to cool and sprinkle with more confectioners’ sugar.
Makes about 100
Grandma made so many pastry varieties, and unfortunately the Kifli is one of the few to survive as a recipe in our family. I never learned to make the strudel dough, though I recall as a child, watching Grandma quickly manipulate a small ball of dough into a paper thin piece that covered the entire tablecloth covered kitchen table and hung down over the edges for at least another 8 – 10 inches. This was an amazing feat I can recall to this day. She would sprinkle on the poppy seed mixture or apple mixture and then coax the dough up and into a very long, loose roll. Placed on a cookie sheet in a large coil, she baked this confection, and sprinkled it with powdered sugar. Grandma cooked and baked back when cooking with lard was an everyday occurrence. And now, once again, lard has come into vogue.
Grandma also made many different foods for Easter or Christmas. Beets with Horseradish for Easter, and a cheese like ball made with eggs and milk, she called Siretz. She made Bobalky at Christmas, and thankfully that recipe was passed down to us. She made the most fantastically flavorful soup, sometimes with beef, sometimes chicken and sometimes with both together. She made her own noodles to use in the soup. She made a tomato sauce she called Machanka to eat over the meats from the soup. What made the soup so very memorable to me was the saffron. The smell, the color, the way the smell of the saffron in the soup permeated the house when we walked in. The love of saffron is a legacy from my Grandma, to this day. I am so grateful to her for the wonderful flavors and memories of foods passed down from her Yugoslav, Serbian heritage.
Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I hope it was informative and helped you along your own culinary journey. You will find many more recipes and helpful tips on my web site. I am on Facebook at A Harmony of Flavors and share a recipe or tip each day to the fans that have liked my site. I hope to see you there soon.