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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.