After all that, it was worth it

Dec. 24, 2021
by Andrew Meuleners

When I was thinking about what to write about this week, I didn’t want to do the same old Christmas column. I am not opposed to spreading Christmas cheer and all, but it gets a little old hearing the same old thing every year.

Yes, I feel blessed. I am grateful for all that I have in my life, especially for my family.

Christmas not only makes me think of the family that I have here with me, but it also makes me think of the family that is no longer with us.

Some of my happiest memories include going to Christmas at my grandparents’ houses and having big family dinners.

Both of my grandmothers were good cooks and bakers. They would make your standard type of holiday treats, which were always great.

There is one holiday treat though, that makes me think of both of my grandmothers with particular fondness. It goes by a couple of names and spellings in my family. It is either Poppy Kuhn or Poppy Kuchen.

It is this amazing buttery, sweet pastry creation, filled with a sweet poppy seed filling and finished with a streusel topping.

It is Polish, German, Ukrainian in its origin, and absolutely hands down my favorite thing to eat during the holidays.

My grandmothers used different recipes, and each one was unique. A uniqueness that you only get from years and years of developing the know how to make such an delectable product.

Several years ago, I came to the realization that my grandmothers where not going to be around forever, and I wanted to know how to make this holiday treat for my family, and pass along this tradition to my kids.

While I never got to make Poppy Kuchen with my Grandma Meuleners, I did get the opportunity to learn how to make it from my Grandma Socher.

My Grandma Socher, Glady was her name, was a force. She was one of the hardest working people I’ve ever known. I could tell you all about her, but I will save that for another time.

I was able to make Poppy Kuchen twice with her. It was perfect. I listened to what she had to say, and watched what she did, and made notes. Of course I was younger and the notes I made, while adequate at the time, are now just barely enough to just get started.

The main thing that I learned from her about baking, and making Poppy Kuchen in particular, is that repetition is a good thing. The more you make it, the more often you will get it right.

This past weekend my wife and I attempted to make Poppy Kuchen. We haven’t made it in a couple of years. I am proud to say that we did accomplish our goal, but we had some issues along the way.

I am not sure if you know this or not, but baking is sort of a precision thing. You need to measure things out to exact amounts. You need to do things in a certain order and if you don’t, you most likely are not going to be successful in your endeavor.

I am more of creative person. I love cooking which allows you to be a little more freewheeling with amounts, and you don’t necessarily need to follow the recipe to a T in order to produce a good product.

Baking is my where my wife excels. She’s a teacher and is very good at being precise and doing things in the right order.

Together you would think that we would be the ultimate couple. We are, but believe it or not sometimes we clash about how things should work.

Making Poppy Kuchen is a process. It take a long time and the ingredients are expensive. We started out by making the filling.

We decided to make this a two day project. Make the filling on Saturday, and then bread and bake on Sunday. I had everything prepped and ready to go.

I was just about to get the sugar out of the canister that was buried under a mound of snacks when I hit a bowl off the counter and it shattered.

I said some colorful things, and my wife looked at me and said that we need to throw out the eggs and start over. Then I looked at the poppy seed. A mixture which I had just spent a good amount of time getting ready which includes grinding the seeds.

We spent about 15 minutes debating before deciding to throw it out and start over. We had to make a run up to Hutchinson to get more poppy seed.

By the way I am cheap, and spending extra money on something tends to kill me.

We went and got the poppy seed, spent another couple of hours prepping and making the filling but his time it worked.

Sunday morning came about, and next up is the bread making and baking.

This is where my wife is queen. She knows how to make bread. She measures everything out, and gets the yeast all frothy and happy, and she kneads away like a champ. The perfect ball of dough was ready to rise, and we were on our way to eating a piece of the most amazing thing on this planet.

After 45 minutes, there was no rising. Nothing happening. At this point my wife gets ticked off. She doesn’t understand why it didn’t rise. She gets mad, she feels it is reflection on her. She tells me that the kitchen is too small, too drafty and that she is not going to bake in the kitchen anymore and that we need to buy a new house.

Maybe a slight over reaction, but she put a lot time and effort into it so I get where she is coming from. After everyone gets calmed down, we talk about my inadequate notes, and make the decision to start again.

This time we crank the heat up in our house to 77 degrees and resolve to turn on the oven and heat the bowl every ten minutes, checking the temp of the dough to make sure that it is happy, happy. An hour and half later we have a risen dough.

In the end, after all of that craziness, the weekend was lost to baking. Spending, in my estimation, $150. OK, not really. Although if you add the extra poppy seed, gas, heat cost, frustration, possible therapy bills, and maybe a new house, it could end up costing a lot more.

After all of that, it didn’t matter, because when my children smelled the finish product and they said it reminded them of great-grandma. That was it, it filled my heart. It made me remember both of my grandmothers. It brought me back to some of the happiest times in my life.

God bless you all, and Merry Christmas.

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