My grandma has turned 88. Normally, she doesn’t like her birthdays, but we always insisted to celebrate them. It was hard for her to accept that she can’t get prepared and welcome us the way she always used to. With pain in her fingers it is getting difficult to bake and after sitting her legs need time to ‘warm up’ for walking.
‘My dear, you know it is difficult to carry the weight of this age’, she used to explain to me, then she adds: ‘It is so interesting when I look into the mirror and a stranger looks back to me. In my mind I look much younger, this old face is not familiar to me. I would do so many things… but I can’t any more.
Even tough all of her difficulties every year she welcomes us with a box full of cookies, she has just baked the day before. But in her memories, celebrations means something completely different, and those birthdays and name days are so vibrant and lively in my memories too.
The coffee table in her living room was nicely set: soda water in the silver syphon (which has just stopped working recently after 50 years), home-made raspberry and sour cherry syrup (which she made from fruits of her orchard), a beautiful birthday cake, different cookies and biscuits (both sweet and savoury) all baked in her tiny electric oven. Glasses for chocolate liqueur (also home-made) for the adults and the china dessert set from the Zsolnay factory, that she would buy after their marriage with my grandfather in 1952. She used to give us nicely wrapped gifts that were always something she made with her hands: crocheted scarfs, knitted sweaters, knitted house shoes for us, children, or knitted dolls.
At that time, we didn’t know yet, the real gift were those memories: her heritage of creating festive from a normal weekday, and create a lot from the little.
Many years later, having two “8” numbers next to each other on her birthday cake, she has finally found peace on her birthday as well. She has taken on her most elegant clothes, the ones she used to wear only at special occasions outside of her home. The whole family gathers, each one of us bring something, as it was a picnic. We slice the cake, have some cheese sticks my grandma baked and drink elderflower syrup my mother made. We take the old photo album into hand, we look through the familiar old photos: my grandma as a bridesmaid, then later as a bride standing happily next to my grandfather. Those photos are followed by images of my mother and aunt, then the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren.
And our grandmother tells stores. I love her stories. She tells about my grandfather, when he came to her house and gave her a serenade We ask her, whether she opened the window.
‘Oh, no, we were not allowed to even touch the curtain. We would light a single match or a candle. The light would be the way to show that the serenade is welcomed. Your grandfather would come with only one violin player. It would be so beautiful.’
‘And…? And what happened then?’, we ask as if we were watching a romantic movie.
‘Oh, nothing, really. My mother would watch us carefully from the other window. He would know his serenade was well-received, it was important. They would finish singing and leave. However, we would have a rendezvous the next day’ she adds with a mischievous smile.
‘Tell about the rendezvous!, we ask her with sparkling eyes.
‘He knew where I worked and the way I used to walk, so he came across and we looked into each other’s eyes. Oh, my face turned so red when I recognised him!’
My mother goes out to the kitchen with my sister to arrange a few things. We continue looking at the photos and we laugh as we were friends when my grandmother admits how many of her colleagues were in love with her. But the only men my grandmother wanted was my grandfather, Feri.
One week later I bake crescent rolls, based on a recipe from 1939. I send some to my mother and grandmother. My grandmother says, she hopes I have taken some photos, because they are so photogenic.
The crescent rolls are buttery, fluffy, soft and fragrant, like in the old good times, in an era, when men gave serenade under women’s window and a timid look at an “accidental” encounter was meant to be a rendezvous.
Textiles I use for photography are hand-woven and botanical dyed, made by @textil_szakacsniki
‘Pékkifli’/ Hungarian crescent rolls
( based on the recipe from 1939 by Dr. Andrea Kollmanné Lemhényi )
for 32 small crescents
500 g all purpose flour (125 g for the pre-ferment, the rest for the dough)
200 ml milk (100 ml for the pre-ferment, the rest for the dough)
10 g fresh yeast
10 g salt
10 g caster sugar
50 g soft butter
1 egg for brushing
Dissolve yeast in 100 ml lukewarm water, then mix with the 125 g flour. Cover and let it rise for 20 minutes. Beat butter with a kitchen mixer and add it to the pre-ferment, alongside with the rest of the ingredients. Add milk gradually and reduce the amount, if you feel the dough is sticky, but you can still work wit it. (The right amount of milk always depends on the quality of the flour, which can vary) The original recipe describes the aim is to get a ‘spaeztle dough consistency’. Knead the dough on a floured wooden board well, divide into 4 parts and form rolls. Dust some flour underneath and on the top, cover and let it rise for 1 hour. Roll out each piece to a very thin circle and divide into 8 triangles. Starting from the widest side roll up each triangle and bend the edges to get a crescent shape. Lay them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and let them rise, covered, for another 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200 ºC-ra (with fan 190 ºC) Brush the top with the beaten egg and bake them for 12 minutes or until they get a nice light golden brown colour. Right after you take them out of the oven, cover them with a kitchen towel to soften them a bit before serving.
In case you want to get bigger crescents that would suit for making a sandwich, divide the rolls into 2 parts instead of 4, so you get 16 triangles at the end.
Dear friend.. it was so nice to sit and read this, as if I were floating on a small boat, the blue skies above and the sound of the birds in the trees were serenading me.. my hand falls slowly to the water, drifting ripples over my fingers, they dance in the light over the water. That is how I feel.. reading your words. Such peace ful joy.
Your grandmother’s response this here to her birthday to me seems like she is finishing a book and the book is her life and she wants to finish it her own way in a style of comfort, in kindness, and in the company of good memories. I think has come to terms with this passage of time and sees the way towards the next journey, which she seems to finally have accepted as her time. Be aware then. Time is short and precious with her now.
I wish you had a cell phone camera and would film her, record her animations, these really are her last gifts. I learned too late, that I wished I had recorded my mother singing. Tho I hear it sometimes in my memory it has already begun to fade.
And there are days.. I miss that joviality she innately possessed.
It is not enough to me, anymore, to rely on the telling of stories, but of the recording the voice, the grin, the twinkle in the storytellers heart. I do have a couple of short videos that I captured on my cell. And they are gold.
Like watching an old movie of a by-gone era, of starlets long gone, we still enjoy their legacy. Generation after generation. We still bond.
As to the recipe, I have to smile, how right your grandmother is, they are adorable! Yummy! And.. I feel like you made them just for me! Now being able to do this is a gift. You.. are truly gifted! And I am so proud of you. Hugs upon hugs to you, and Grandmother!
Dear Blue, I am sorry for the belated response- at least here on the website-. It has been a very busy week, travelling to Germany, doing some work and being with part of my family at the same time… Thank you so much for your comment, it really made my day, even week- beautiful piece of writing. I remembered it also, when I have recorded my grandmother telling stories, right before I left to Germany…She was sharing with me beautiful stories from her childhood, almost an hour long. I am so happy, that it popped into my mind, secretly turn the recorder on my cell on.
I wish I could have sent you some of those crescent rolls to you in some ways. I hope one day we can sit down to the same table and have a conservation while we are eating somethings nice. Big hugs and nice greetings from Hungary!
Your grandmother sounds a little like my late Polish grandmother who would always welcome us with a table full of homemade food. She loves baking and she would have just loved these crescents – as do I! This post has reminded me of my childhood – thank you!
Oh, thank you so much Katerina. It is so beautiful, how food can connect us even if we live in the different part of this planet. I am so happy, that this recipe reminded you your grandmother! Sending you big virtual hugs from Hungary!