In our family, food spells comfort. Ever since I was a little girl, the aroma of my mother’s rice pudding simmering on the stovetop meant everything would be all right. Rice pudding meant a delicious flavor, warmth… and healing. Back in the day when I was growing up—and especially in our family of sturdy European stock—home remedies… and food… often provided the solution to everyday ailments. Of course, food meant love. Hence, we were very well fed. Lots of meat and potatoes and gravy and bread. And dessert–always dessert which was the companion to after-dinner or mid-afternoon “coffee.” In our home, which consisted of my parents and me, but also living upstairs, my grandparents, “coffee” meant “coffee and cake”–most often a crumb cake or coffee ring from the German bakery on Bell Blvd.
My memory takes me back to the walks to Bell Blvd.,maybe just a mile…and the individual shops lining the street– Bauer’s Bakery, the butcher, Parker’s Hardware, DeRolf’s Book Store. All exist now only in my memory, but then they were so much a part of my life. Who ever thought that way of life would vanish?
The Bakery–so deserving of a capital B– People would stand in line patiently awaiting their turn, maybe some quiet conversation, but mostly peering through the spotless glass showcase to the delicately browned cookies and braided coffee rings and sturdy rye breads fresh from the oven. The delicious aromas would envelop you–what better way to entice customers? Breads would be slipped into paper bags, cakes into cardboard boxes tied with colored string. The “girls” were so adept at pulling the string from its holder above and wrapping the box with string once, twice–turn the box, wrap once, twice again. Knotted several times and handed over the counter. (Grandma would save every bit of that string..but that’s another story.) “Guten tag” they would say.
My Grandma prided herself with making the best German stollen, so special that she made it in large quantities only once a year–at Christmas. And we would discuss and analyze its success, and praise it afterwards. If my mother had a specialty, it would have been her cheesecake, unlike cheesecake of today–hers was in a yeast crust and made with “pot cheese.” (As a child, I would eat the yeast dough first and “save” the best–the delicate melt-in-your-mouth cheesecake center–for last.)
A cake that has become one of my “comfort” foods is an Apple Cake which old timers would have admired it for its flavor and its ability to “last”. But when it is eaten warm from the over, when it is given away in generous slices to eager daughters, “lasting” doesn’t happen often. I don’t remember exactly where I first got the recipe, but it has been around our household for many years.