“Couldn’t you at least put out a little cheese?”
By my assessment, Betty Jane Hegerat has already baked plum kuken, and a batch of apfeltaschen. The teacups are set out, coffee on the ready, and invited guests beginning to arrive for an afternoon of in-home author readings.
The occasion was an old-fashioned story salon – something just a little more intimate and social than the week of library talks and media interviews planned for the rest of my week in Calgary.
Having caught a morning flight, and ignored suggestions that breakfast is, if not the most important, at least a noteworthy, meal, I have to admit that a nibble of dairy protein around noon might help unjangle my nerves.
And, because Betty Jane is like so many other grown-up daughters, with daughters of their own, her mother’s voice on the phone still has sway. So, cheese there is.
An author herself, Betty Jane has become one of my favourite writers in the last few months. The characters in her novel, Delivery (Oolichan Books), are likely to be among the people I think are real when I finally become senile.
It’s one of her short stories, though, that has me thinking about the deep emotional attachments people have to food.
“Leftovers,” which is one of the short stories in A Crack in the Wall, unfolds its secrets through some of the 365 frozen meals that a dying woman leaves her husband for after she’s gone.
Meatballs in mushroom sauce comes with a note, a reminder to eat some salad every day. Lasagna to go with the memory of a first anniversary.
Stroganoff evokes being witnesses to a failing marriage, coming unglued in a kitchen. “Crap Casserole” is what their son dubbed the results of his mother’s fridge-cleaning expeditions. Chili, the same son’s favourite meal. And peach cobbler, evocative of an intimate moment on the back lawn.
There’s a meal for every day of an entire year. Whether to help her husband say good-bye, or to keep her with him, it’s hard to say.
What’s certain is that the food speaks of a shared life, and connections that have been melded together over pots of pastas and stews.
Back at Betty Jane’s house, readings by three authors are given in turn, from a rocking chair in the middle of the living room. And after a conversation about stories, which feels like friends and family chatting on a Sunday afternoon, we drift deliberately towards the pastries.
The plum kuken is something like the platz I make at home. I could linger over the squares the rest of the day.
But it’s the apfeltaschen that soon has my full attention: Tender pastry pockets, filled with sweetened, grated apples and jam.
Sometime after my fourth (they’re small, don’t judge me), I find myself asking for the recipe.
By the time I get to my hotel that evening, apfeltaschen is in my inbox. And I already know it’s a recipe I’ll always associate with storytime at Betty Jane’s house.
2 cups flour
1 tbs sugar
1 cup butter
1 cup cottage cheese*
1 tsp vanilla
3 apples, peeled and grated
Combine flour and sugar. With pastry blender, cut in butter. Add cottage cheese and vanilla. Mix thoroughly, continuing to use pastry blender. Shape into ball.
On a floured surface, roll out dough about 1/2 inch thick. Fold in thirds, then shape into a ball again. Repeat rolling 3 times. Wrap and chill several hours or overnight. (May also be frozen.)
Divide dough into 3 parts. Roll out each part into a rectangle 1/8 inch thick. Cut each rectangle into 12 squares. Fill centre of each square with 1 heaping tsp of grated apple and 1/2 teaspoon of jam. Bring corners to middle, pinching points together to seal. Place on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
Bake in 400F oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.
These can be drizzled with glaze, but are awfully good with a scoop of ice cream or dollop of whipped cream.
*Betty Jane drains the cottage cheese somewhat before incorporating it into the dough.
Mahlzeit! Und Guten Appetit!
– Words and photo by Darcie Hossack