I completed the last of my Christmas tasks, baking Kruschiki, and sending two bags full to my brother-in-law, Ken, layered in plastic bags between padding. There is, as with most things family, a story behind this largess.
Every Christmas, for years, Cliff would tell me the story of the box (a large box, but his memory is from childhood so it probably wasn’t as big as his arms can reach now) of the Kruschiki his Polish grandmother, Bushi Marie, would make at Christmas and send down the two blocks to Cliff and Ken’s house in Cousin Eddie’s arms. Kruschiki, as I could learn from his telling, was bow-ties, crunchy, and covered in powdered sugar.
As near as I could tell, this was sort of like Indian fry bread (me being from Kansas and more familiar with Native American ways of doing things than the Baltimore Polish way), but the fry bread I knew was covered in honey.
And then my mother-in-law, the latest, not the one who made mayonnaise cake and banana bread, moved from the house on Chester Street, where she’d lived all her life, and into a senior co-op and I got her family recipes. Among them was the recipe for Kruschiki, hand written by her mother-in-law and calling for 12 pounds of flour.
Along with Cliff’s grandmother’s recipe, there was also one she’d written out with considerably less flour. As you can see, it has a few more instructions. But what did “roll out very thin” mean? Like pie crust? Well, I pondered that for a few years.
And then, finally, like all things, last year, I turned to Google search and found Martha Stewart in the kitchen with her Polish mother, making Kruschiki, and filming it for our edification. The recipe was also, in Martha Stewart form, precise: put butter, sugar, eggs, sour cream, salt, and flavorings in a large mixer. Martha, while Polish, did not use a half-cup of rum and another half cup of bourbon. She advises a tablespoon along with orange and lemon zest, and 3 cups of flour, which is considerably less than the 14 pounds Cliff’s grandmother used and even less than my mother-in-law used – or at least wrote down because Cliff doesn’t remember his mother making any.
The other precise Martha Stewart tips was roll the dough out to 1/16th of an inch. Do you have any idea how thin 1/16th of an inch is? Look on a ruler. 1/4 of 1/4th inch, like parchment paper. Roughly. In other words, thinner than pie crust. And the precise measurements of cutting strips, after rolling out dough, of 5″ by 1 1/4th. (That’s one and one fourth, not 11. Regardless how it looks.) Then cut a strip in the middle, trim the ends off at an angle, and pull the ends through the middle. Ergo. Bow ties.
And then they fry, very quickly, in very hot oil, after which they are drained on paper, and covered in powdered sugar. It’s a process, as they say. Cliff cooks and drains and dusts with powdered sugar as I roll out and cut and tie. Or loop.
It took Cliff an hour to clean the kitchen after all that and remove all traces of powered sugar and oil from floor and counter tops. It took him that long this year too, while I packaged the Kruschiki and carried them to the post office to mail to Ken.
Ken tells me it’s the best Kruschiki he’s had since his grandmother made it. “Well, I said, that’s because I have your grandmother’s recipe, and your mother’s – along with Martha Stewart.”
Very likely, I’m about up to my ears in Christmas traditions, but once again, I came through. Ken’s treats are off to him; my son in Florida has his banana bread and cookies, and thankfully they’re about gone from our share.
Now we wait for Epiphany when Christmas goes back into boxes to be stored on basement shelves, and the tree goes to the backyard to be hung with suet for the birds. Next spring, we’ll hack off the branches and cut up the trunk for firewood.
And then, before we know it or are ready for it, 2017 will turn and we’ll be doing it again.
Maybe by then, Cliff will have forgotten how much work it is to clean up after me in the kitchen during the holidays and be ready for another go-round. I expect you could bet on it.