Today I have the train going around the Tree to prepare, prep the evening buffet, wrap presents, and…bake grandma’s Christmas Poppyseed bread!.
Grandma was Hungarian and German. An exceptional woman, she spoke five languages fluently – Hungarian, German, English, Spanish, and Yiddish. Her culinary achievements included traditional American cuisine, Hungarian, German, and married to my grandfather – Spanish. She was why the Carreras household consumed Borsht, potato pancakes, Saurkraut, and tons of Spanish food. My mother dutifully learned all this to please my father, but she taught no one the poppyseed bread.
The poppyseed bread played a role in family holidays and politics. Not all of the long rolls of poppyseed bread were created equal. Some had voids filled only with air, not poppyseed filling, and some have ends which are only bread. Displease grandma, and your part of the family got empty ends and voids. Grandma knew.
To be clear, I should say that I am talking about the “lost” poppyseed bread. When grandma died, it went with her. It wasn’t that she never talked about it, she just was forever vague about it, and when she died, a hurried conference within the family failed to come up with a consensus of how the excellent stuff got made. After a year or two and dozens of failed attempts, interest died down. Around 1972 I began a new tradition of making rum-soaked fruitcake ( don’t eat this stuff and then drive). I think the family liked the rum part of it mostly. The poppyseed bread remained a part of our family holiday lore, like the little German Santa that we’ve had since forever. We talked about it like it was a beloved missing relative. I’m sure that my uncle Lenny would have died a happier man knowing that I had eventually reconstructed the recipe.
Having assumed the role of family holiday baker ( twenty rum-soaked beauties every Christmas), I couldn’t let the “lost” poppyseed bread rest. Periodically I’d try a new recipe. At last, I found a few leads online from Hungarian women with the same traditions. The result? Poppyseed bread that my sister and mother couldn’t tell from Grandma’s.
So now comes the question. How vague should I be about the secret? Who gets the voids? After all, it is a tradition we are talking about here!