The English used to find it rather funny if we ever described our heritage as anything but American. They would ask what states we came from but never what countries our predecessors came from long ago. I suppose it is true of many of us that our family’s origins have faded in significance–the thing about the melting pot is that it tends to soften old family traditions and cultural distinctives until they disintegrate into the broth. This Christmas I had the joy of participating in a tradition still lasting in my family, and, to make it even more delightful, a culinary one.
My father’s father’s mother’s parents came to this country from Czechoslovakia. Thus the recipe we made came at least from my grandpa’s grandma. The copy we have is in my grandmother’s curly hand, the paper soft and a little bumpy in places with years of use. We call them, as she does, “Roleki” (row-LEEK-ee)–though I’ve finally found record of it elsewhere spelled rohlicky. They are sweet, soft, nutmeggy rolls formed in a crescent shape, painted with egg and sprinkled with coarse salt, and baked to perfect, warm goodness in the oven. The recipe is old enough to be fairly unscientific (“add small handful of salt” and “bake until golden brown”), and leaves much to the judgement of the baker. Variations are suggested: “Can do cinnamon or whatever you wish” and “(Great-great-) Grandma used to deep-fry some pulled pieces like donuts”.
We’ve made this periodically over the years when we’ve all been together. I love how it connects us to our past; how it ties us to the farm folk that settled in Minnesota long ago. This time it was a particular joy to see my children getting involved in the tradition.
And to hear them at the dinner table, “More LEEKY, please!”
I’d love your comments today: What are your family’s culinary holdovers from the past?