Easter is just around the corner. Last year was kinda fun, as my sister and I dragged out box after box of old family photos and held a full out scanner fest. But as the Bunny fires up for egg painting this year, my nerves feel a bit jumpy already. I will once again be challenged (expected, assumed. pressured) to bake the traditional Slovenian treat for our family…the Potica. For those of you with no Balkan heritage…it’s “Po-teets-zah.” For me, it’s a Panic Attack. Now this is by no means the first time I’ve made the Potica. It’s been my job now for several years since my Grandma quit baking it. Apparently this skips a generation, so my aunts and mom just crowned me Princess Potica and before I knew it…I was in charge.So, I make it for each of the big family celebrations, and then, kind of like Jesus, I take a beating for it. Let me clarify that ~ I make the complicated yeast and nut delight, and then sit back and listen to everyone else critique it, and wax poetic over the Poticas (the real Poticas) of days gone by.
How I haven’t spent a holiday in jail yet I do not know.
Oh, I get it. I really do. I understand why I am the one who is saddled with the honor of carrying on an old country tradition. I can bake. And I am really good at it. I had my own coffee house for several years, and baked everything that went out the door. But the problem with Potica (and in your family it could be aunt Nell’s potato salad) is that there is only one right way, one right recipe, and one right presentation that can be accepted and deigned as perfect. Unfortunately, no one who went before me actually wrote the damn recipe down for “the real Potica“, exactly as they made it “when it was perfect“.
Let’s revisit that last line: I want you to experience it as I hear it each time I offer up a Potica. Say it for yourself aloud
with your nose crinkled up,
as if you are chewing an adult aspirin,
and it is stuck to the back of your tongue and you only have scalding hot coffee available to wash it down with..
now say the words.. like the real Potica, when it was perfect….
Is there a tear in the corner of your eye as if you have just been deeply harmed and dissappointed? Good. You’re getting the general tone of voice they use for Potica critiqing. We can continue now
When my oldest daughter was receiving First Communion, we had a little ceremony a couple of days ahead of time, where each family was to involve their child in baking a loaf of bread and then bring it to church with all their classmates and their families for a special blessing of the loaves. For Caitlin, I thought it would be cool, and perhaps more special to her if together we made Potica. Since this was a sort of last minute thing, I went to the internet and trolled for some recipes. This was the first time I had actually seen the word spelled out. Luckily, I hit a site where the pronunciation was spelled out phonetically so was close to how I had “searched” for it (this was way before Google). I looked through until I found a recipe (in English) that sounded about right. We sifted, kneaded, rolled, filled and baked with delightful anticipation. The smell in the kitchen was heaven.
Blessing of the loaves day was probably a little traumatizing for Cait. Many of my Mom friends had chumped-out (having never baked bread before) and had purchased the frozen, thaw and bake stuff. Their loaves were glorious mounds of buttery gold crusts. The Pillsbury Doughboy bakes up like a champ every time. Our Potica (and yes we made 2 just to have a shot at choosing the best looking one to show off at church) looked like hemorrhaging cinnamon raisin bagels glopped together. Not stellar.
After that “experience” I started checking around within the family for a good recipe. Oddly, no one ever seemed to be able to put their hands on one. That was probably 20 years ago. Eventually,having learned my lesson, I gave up asking. Clearly, some family things are strictly on a “need to know basis.” As the older women in my family line all began passing on to their reward, the Potica making pool got smaller and smaller. When Grandma Jean announced that she would be taking up residence in a rest home, suddenly, the baking baton was passed on to me. Sans the recipe of course!
Luckily, my friend Karen gifted me with this well worn and dearly loved cookbook that had belonged to her Aunt Udi. Udi had been the Potica maker for her family. Karen naturally had no idea which of the more than 2 dozen recipes for the bread was Udi’s favorite, so I have been baking my way thru the book holiday after holiday. With of course, all the feed back I can stand.
I’ll be on version #18 soon, wish me luck