The Strudel that Arrived in a Shoebox
Shared by: Alissa Haroush sharing a recipe from her Great-Aunt Blanche Schiff
Recipe Roots: Denver > Los Angeles
When jeweler Alissa Haroush was growing up in Southern California, shoeboxes of sweets would arrive at her family’s doorstep. There were hamantaschen for Purim, mandel bread, and sometimes, for no occasion at all, strudel, filled with flakes of coconut, nuts, and apricot or pineapple preserves. Tucked into the boxes, were often handwritten recipes for what was inside like one for bletel, what Alissa’s family calls strudel, the Yiddish word for sheet, in this case, of dough. They were care packages from her great-aunt Blanche Schiff who lived in Denver. “She didn’t think us Californians knew how to cook, so she’d just send [us strudel] randomly,” Alissa told us.
On one occasion, when Alissa’s mother was visiting her aunt, she gave her a shoebox to take home, telling her there was strudel inside. “There was actually a Kosher salami,” says Alissa. “Because she thought there was nothing Jewish in California.”
Blanche was born in 1908 in Colorado, only six years after her father emigrated from Grodno Gubernia, now located in Belarus. To escape being sent to the front lines to fight in the Russo-Japanese war he intentionally injured his trigger finger, and left for America.
Blanche’s recipes like the one for strudel were a mix of her family’s Russian roots and ideas she picked up from her community in Denver, where she was active in the Pioneer Women’s Group, a Zionist organization in Denver and the Hebrew Educational Alliance, both of which produced community cookbooks.
“The ladies were, for the most part, of Eastern European descent, and baking strudel was a delicacy that required time and concentration to bake at home. You could have easily gone to the Kosher bakery, but nothing was as good as homemade strudel,” Alissa told us when she first sent us her recipe.
Blanche wove the recipe into her family’s fabric. Alissa’s mother, who grew up nearby, remembers the smell of fresh baked strudel in the house. Over time, the recipe stretched across state lines. “Even my aunts in California have it,” Alissa adds. And she’s passed it along to her sister-in-law who lives in Israel. Today, Alissa’s teaching her 11- and 19-year-old daughters to roll logs of strudel, finished with a dusting of powdered sugar.
The strudel isn’t the only recipe from great-aunt Blanche that’s well loved in her family. Blanche’s famous dill pickle recipe will make an appearance when a cousin opens a deli in Denver soon. But the strudel is a simple one — an easy way to keep great-aunt Blanche’s cooking alive. “It’s so easy to make, even a lazy cook like myself can make it” Alissa says. “There’s no reason everyone else can’t as well.”