I don’t remember my great grandmother. I know some things about her, and I own the rolling pin that used to be hers. There’s even a picture of me sitting on her lap when I was very small. But I don’t even have a ghost of a memory of her. And I don’t remember ever crying over her until Christmastime this year.
The most vivid and tangible association with my great grandmother is kiffles. Kiffles are a Hungarian cookie made of plain dough with a raisin and nut filling, and we have a family recipe passed down from my great grandmother that we use to make them every Christmas. You know it’s a bona fide full blown traditional family recipe, because it even comes with disagreement between my grandmother and my great aunt about the proper way to make them.
Based on my father’s childhood memories of kiffles, our branch of the family has gone with my grandmother’s version, cooking the filling before rolling it into the dough, as that seems to produce the most authentic results. I’ve honed my kiffle making abilities pretty well over the years, and I have it on good authority that the taste is wonderful.
But like any good family recipe, the directions are a bit sketchy. With some general baking experience I can intuit what the dough is supposed to feel like, and which of the various amounts of flour lead to that feel. I can experiment to get the filling to stay in the cookie instead of running all over the cookie sheet (mostly). But I have no idea what size squares and then triangles the dough is supposed to be cut into for each cookie.
And for some reason, this Christmas as I was rolling out kiffle dough it really hit me for the first time that I can’t ask my great grandmother what size the kiffles are supposed to be. I can’t watch her make them and take notes for my children. The sum total of her kiffle knowledge that has been passed on is written on the front of a 3×5 card in my grandmother’s handwriting, with a short list of filling ingredients on the back in my handwriting.
I can’t find any evidence on the internet of the quote that’s hovering the back of my head, but someone, perhaps Martin Luther, was musing on how wonderful the beer will be in heaven, where beermakers have thousands of years to perfect their recipes.
I would have to imagine that in a place where no knowledge is lost before in can be passed on, the kiffles are truly amazing.