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R.I.P. Auntie Theresia

Last Saturday, my great-aunt passed away at the ripe ol’ age of 94.  (The obit is here.)  I have met very few people who were always genuinely happy to see you and Theresia was one of those.  Even if our family visits weren’t the most regular.  For most of my life, she and Grandma Rose (they are sisters) lived in the same apartment building and later in the same assisted living housing, so it was really easy to duck in and say “Hi.”  The catch was that she wasn’t at home all that much because she was off visiting somebody, or shopping, or doing something at church, or out for heaven knows what reason.  One of Auntie Theresia’s passions was baking.  As an added bonus, she was unbelievable good at it.  Her two signature desserts, angel food cake and coffee cake, are the gold standards in our family.  It is considered high praise if someone said that you came close to Auntie Theresia’s version.  Like all great cooks, she loved to share her creations and we were more than happy to oblige.  She was also very prolific in her baking.  When we did manage to cross paths and visit, she always had some kind of treat already sitting on the counter or she pulled something out of the freezer to thaw even before you had a chance to sit down.  And if you were really lucky, you managed to catch her when she was cleaning out the freezer and she would send something home with you.

Many people in my family have tried to reproduce her recipes.  Most have had decent luck with the angel food cake.  No one has been able to nail her coffee cake recipe though.  My sister Michelle probably comes the closest with a version that’s about 87% of Theresia’s sinfully delicious coffee cake.  All the different fillings that Theresia used were wonderful, but the one that everyone fought over was the poppy seed filled one.  It had so much poppy seed in it, you couldn’t pass a drug test for a year after only one piece.  There would be a layer of three-quarters of an inch of poppy seed across the whole cake.  Combined with milk and sugar, the poppy seed layer was always the best part.  As a very close second, was the crumb that she put on top of the cake.  It is a combination of sugar, flour, butter, and lard that approaches foodie nirvana.  Remember fat equals flavor!

I have never worked up the nerves to try this recipe, but here is Auntie Theresia’s Poppy Seed Coffee Cake recipe (as found in the Holy Trinity Centennial Cookbook, Royalton, MN):

Ingredients – Dough:

  • 3 1/2 C Milk – scalded
  • 1 1/4 C Lard
  • 2 tsp Salt
  • 1 1/2 C Sugar
  • 3 Eggs
  • 10 C Flour

2 yeast cakes and 1 package yeast dissolved in 1 C lukewarm water, 2 tsp vanilla and 2 tsp sugar add to above ingredients.

Mix and let rise, punch down and let rise again.  Divide dough in greased 10″ round or 7″ square pans.  Spread filling (see below).  Gather sides to the the middle, pinch together and press down.  Spread on dough (beat 1 egg and 2 Tbs sugar mixed so crumbs stick).

Crumbs:

  • 5 C Flour
  • 1 C Butter
  • 1 Tbs Vanilla
  • 2 C Sugar
  • 1 C Lard

Mix until crumbly and spread on dough.

Poppy Seed Filling:

  • 6 C Milk
  • 1 C Half & Half

Bring to boil and add 2 lbs ground poppy seed, 6 C sugar, 1 Tbs Vanilla;  boil slowly for 1 hour stirring frequently; let cool.

Bake at 350 F degrees for 30-35 until brown.

Mind you, this is verbatim from the church cookbook and I’ve never done this before, so if you have questions, ask Michelle.  She is getting better as the years go by.  Michelle did want me to say that this is a very sticky dough, so be warned.

Not Theresia's coffee cake, but it's the closest picture I could find.

As a very strange aside, I find comfort in that Fr. Virnig will be co-officiating the funeral.  He was the priest at Mom and Dad’s church while I was growing up, and then he moved over to Royalton where Grandma and Theresia lived.  Then when Grandma passed, he was one of the officiants at her funeral with my cousin, Fr. Tom.  I guess I just like the continuity.

I just want to leave saying that Auntie Theresia will be missed, and more than just for her food.

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  1. Jill B.
    April 25, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    Very well said. The only thing I would change is that to me the topping of the coffee cake was the best! Auntie Theresia has been on my mind a lot this week. She was an amazing lady. I loved spending time with her when I visited Grandma. When I take my kids to the Little Falls Zoo I always smile when I think of the many trips my family took there with the two of them. Each time we go zoo I usually tell my kids at least one story about when I went there as a child. Thanks for sharing! Your Cousin, Jill

  2. April 25, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    Thank you for reminding me about the zoo! I had completely forgotten those trips. But I’m still sticking with the poppy seed. 😉

  3. DMC
    April 26, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Thanks for writing this. I was telling Jason what a nice lady Auntie Theresia was and how I loved it when Michelle and I stayed with Grandma Rose at her apartment and we all got together to play cards! I’m almost inspired to try making the poppy seed coffee cake. I have some lard here, so why not (other than the fact that I’m always way behind doing actual work things that need to get done)? Just need to run to the co-op and find some poppy seeds, so I’ll see if I can squeeze that in. One of your other cousins(!), Dyanna

  4. April 26, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    It warms the greasy sludge that flows through my heart that you have lard on hand. You make me proud.

  5. Michelle B.
    April 29, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    I always looked forward to spending time at Grandma Rose’s, especially when we planned to go to the zoo and park in Little Falls with Auntie Theresia and her granddaughters. At the funeral yesterday, I talked to Theresia’s granddaughter Stephanie. One of the first things she mentioned was the trips to the park and how much fun we had going there and that it was something she looked forward to every year. Auntie Theresia will always be remembered each time I make her angel food cake or her coffee cakes.

  6. kathy czeck
    April 30, 2012 at 11:05 am

    What a great tribute Terry. I know what I’m going to request Michelle to make for the Czeck mass in the fall. 😉 Love your Cousins from St Cloud Kathy & Kyle and Boys

  7. April 30, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    Thanks everyone for sharing your memories of Auntie Theresia. It was nice to hear them.

  1. June 15, 2012 at 10:28 am
  2. October 9, 2012 at 3:49 pm

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