It’s a time for poppy seeds. This loaf, in particular springs to mind. One of the kick starts for this Croatian Makovnjaca came from my speakers and my soppy habit of listening to Simon and Garfunkel while I work. Yes, there were drops of rain (welcome to London in November). My thoughts were a little distracted, possibly confused too. And then I too, thought of Kathy.
This Croatian Makovnjaca is a dish that will commonly emerge from the kitchen at The Hungry One’s grandfather’s house. He’s a proud man nudging towards 100. It might be the garlic and home made schnapps that have sheltered him along the way. It might have something to do with good genes (I like to think I chose good stock). But I think a few of us suspect it’s mostly Kathy’s doing.
To me Kathy is less of a step-grandmother-in-law and more of a force of nature. She’s a woman who churns butter by hand and will dispatch of the roast duck for lunch herself. She radiates a warmth, and her hugs are best characterised as vehement.
The last time we saw Kathy was last Christmas, at their small property about an hour south of Sydney. After lunch Kathy placed the makovnjaca, cookies and coffee on the starched white table cloth and The Hungry One pulled out his iPad. He then spent a good hour showing his Grandfather Google street view maps of the towns in Romania and Austria where he was born and grew- places he hasn’t seen in 60 years. His grandfather was agog.
As we left Kathy thrust another of these yeasted, scrolled poppy seed loaves into my hands, carefully wrapped in foil. ‘Eat. Eat’ she said. ‘And come back soon’.
This year we won’t be spending Christmas with them. It tugs and twists a bit. But as I made this treat from her childhood- in Croatia a makovnjaca is traditionally eaten on December 24 – I thought of her.
Next year. I promise.
There are other Croatian variations of this loaf- Kathy also makes a terrific one with walnuts. The key with the poppy seeds is to grind them to release the flavour. This also helps them to bind together once they’ve been cooked in milk and gilded with jam. I prefer apricot jam in the stuffing though you could easilysubstitute for plum or honey. It’s a lovely loaf to make over the course of a day; it just needs a little attention now and then- making the dough, letting it rise, rolling and then letting it rest. It’s also an excellent thing to make in bulk.