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Oodles of Streudels: A Whirlwind of Old World Pastries Sweeten Allen Park

Edible WOW, Find Local Food, Guest Post, Rebecca Powers, Southeast Michigan, Specialty Producers, Stories

Rare things happen in the most unremarkable of places. Outside a narrow Downriver building, where gaps in vertical blinds reveal little more than a few windowsill houseplants, only a small sign— Hungarian Strudel Shop—hints at the Old World process within. Inside, just beyond a display case of fresh-baked confections and a framed photograph of Hungary’s ornate parliament building, is a barebones backroom where the morning activity is nothing short of fascinating.

Here, Helen Dawson works magic, transforming our, water, shortening and a pinch of salt into a voluptuous expanse that looks and feels more like fabric than dough.

While morning commuters edge along in rush-hour traffic on nearby Southfield Road in Allen Park, Dawson goes to work.
She positions a smooth, 10-pound disk of dough into her electric sheeter, a mechanical rolling pin of sorts, that flattens the thick round into a thin rectangle. Three trips through the sheeter produce the pastry sheet she needs to begin working magic on a surface resembling a giant Ping-Pong table covered with a tablecloth.

In almost reverent silence, with only a few quiet directives spoken to her work partners, Dawson quickly and expertly stretches the raw material as far as it will go, making a 20- by 25-foot sheet. She knuckles and tugs the elastic, high-gluten dough and gives it an elevating shake, as if snapping a king-size bed sheet so that it billows up, then settles softly back into place. Dawson and her two or three table partners—family members, usually—are in constant motion: Circling. Stretching. Trimming.

Larousse Gastronomique, the culinary encyclopedia, says strudel translates to “whirlwind.” That applies to Dawson, as she deftly stretches the dough in a sort of workroom waltz. Larousse says strudel was inspired by the Turkish baklava.

Phyllo dries quickly and is highly sensitive to ambient elements. Because Michigan air is humid, Dawson is forever fine-tuning
the shop’s fans and dehumidifier for optimal levels. She has been finessing phyllo for four decades, producing at least 1,200 strudels a week.

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As Dawson describes the process, her hands reflexively move in a caressing motion. “My favorite part is the stretching,” she says. After that comes trimming, dusting with a mixture of breadcrumbs and sugar, a light sprinkling with melted shortening to help it brown, then filling and rolling, slicing into lengths and boxing.

Standard fillings include apple, apricot, blueberry, cheese, cheese with fruit, cherry, walnut and, in autumn, pumpkin. For Dawson, a piece of each flaky finished dessert is a slice of her life.

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Dawson’s family, the Arnoczkis, came to Detroit in 1956 as refugees fleeing the Hungarian revolution. They settled in Delray, which was then a thriving Southwest Detroit ethnic enclave near Holy Cross Church, whose parish priest, along with their great aunt, sponsored their U.S. entry.

Eventually, Dawson’s mother, Emma, bought a strudel-making business from a Hungarian-German couple, and ran it with Dawson’s brother, John. Dawson worked for them for years until her mother retired and she bought her mother’s share of the operation.

Dawson’s mother and brother are gone, now, making her business even more of an endangered species. “It’s a lost art, even in Hungary,” she says. “People aren’t doing it today by hand. It’s very physical, almost like making a custom sweater.” The daily exertion has given her buff baker’s muscles—a look that, these days, is more likely to come courtesy of the gym.

As the Houston Chronicle noted several years ago: In this era
of home-brewed beer and cottage-industry butter, ricotta and charcuterie, “phyllo has been left, by and large, to a dwindling number of grandmothers.” Those “grandmothers” know that old-country lore suggests two tips for making good phyllo: You should be able to read a newspaper through a properly thin layer of prepared dough, and there should be an added measure of spiritual respect.

“Little old ladies always blessed the dough,” Dawson says. “If it didn’t turn out well, they’d say, ‘Did you make the cross?’ ” Dawson still honors that tradition. There, amid the 50-pound bags of Bouncer-brand flour and tubs of Sweetex shortening, she makes a sign of the cross over the mixer.

For Dawson, such cultural rituals are a connection with her revolution-era girlhood, a time when she heard adults talk of tanks “rolling people as flat as crêpes.” “[When the tanks came] I waved to them,” she says. “I thought if I was friendly, they wouldn’t flatten me.”

Today, her welcoming hospitality comes in the form of ray-tesh, as the word strudel sounds phonetically in her native language. “I like it warm with ice cream,” she says. That’s how her confection
is often served in restaurants that purchase it wholesale—raw and frozen—for baking on-site. Caterers also order the strudel for events, including weddings. Individual customers may buy the pastry ready-to-eat or frozen with instructions to bake it at home. It’s best enjoyed on the same day it’s baked.

“I never sell day-old strudel,” Dawson says. The only “old” aspect is the tradition, which she hopes to pass on one day to a buyer willing to learn and preserve the craft. “It’s a lot of hard work, so you have to like it,” Dawson says. “It’s a labor of love.”

Hungarian Strudel Shop, 6816 Park Ave., Allen Park; 313-383-3440

Rebecca Powers is a metro Detroit writer and editor. This piece was originally printed in Edible WOW’s Spring 2015 issue. Contact info@ediblewow.com for more information.

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Eating Seasonally Made Easy with Red Haven

Find Local Food, Nina Santucci, Stories

Red Haven Restaurant is owned and operated by Chef Anthony Maiale and his wife Nina Santucci. After 10 years of living and working at top restaurants in great food cities across the country, the couple settled in Nina’s home state of Michigan ready to open their own restaurant. In 2011 they opened the Purple Carrot Food Truck and after a successful first season were able to make the move into a brick and mortar restaurant with the opening of Red Haven.

The food truck and restaurant operate under one simple premise, local first. Nina explains their inspiration, “Living in Michigan we are surrounded by an abundance of fresh food, talented artisans and hundreds of farms, however we were shocked to learn how much of our local harvests end up leaving the state. We wanted to make sure our brands focused on being as local as possible to help keep these great products in our state. This means we not only have access to some of the countries best raw ingredients but we can also help support and grow the local food movement in Michigan.” 10547653_10152172562006300_6265810675384205828_n

Red Haven prides itself on sourcing as close to 100% of its ingredients from local farmers and artisans as possible year round. This includes, but is not limited to their produce, meats, fish, dairy, vinegars, flours, grains, spirits, beers, soda, etc. in a constantly evolving menu. The menus change with the seasons to showcase the best of Michigan in innovative, creative and delicious dishes designed to deliver fresh and bright flavors in a comfortable atmosphere. IMG_5501

To allow the customer to enjoy as many great dishes as possible, the plates are shared amongst the table and served in a paced out fashion to bring a fun and interactive dining experience to all of the guests.

All year the flavors of the season shine bright across each menu. In the winter the dishes are hearty and include the best of winter squash, potatoes, greens and decadent sauces. As spring emerges, you will find dishes featuring the best of the Michigan woods with ingredients such as morel mushrooms, wild leeks, and fiddlehead ferns complimented with farmed asparagus and spring peas. Summer is packed with color from a large array of edible flowers, squash blossoms, stone fruit and lake fish. Fall closes the year with flavorful ingredients such as corn, peppers, end of season tomatoes and autumn squash. They invite you to experience the cuisine of Michigan year round at Red Haven.

Nina Santucci is the co-owner of Red Haven with her chef husband Anthony Maiale. Red Haven restaurant is located at 4480 S. Hagadorn Rd., Okemos, MI 48864. Contact Nancy at nina.santucci@gmail.com

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The Next Generation of the Traditional Farmers Market? Argus Farm Stop, L3C

Find Local Food, Guest Post, Kathy Sample, Retail, Stories

Here in Washtenaw County, we have an active, robust local food movement.  But Census Bureau statistics show some alarming stats on farms.  The average age of a farmer is 58, and new farmers have a tough time getting a foothold in this business.  

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We decided to get involved after seeing a market in Wooster, Ohio called Local Roots, which is open year round and sells product for local farms in an indoor setting.

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Stewards of the Land : Stone Coop Farm is a Quiet Tribute to Sustainability and Reinvention

Cara Catallo, Edible WOW, Find Local Food, Stories

When Joannée DeBruhl’s 21-year insurance industry job fell victim to cuts, she saw a window of opportunity in the form of establishing a church garden. DeBruhl did more than produce 2,000 pounds of vegetables for Gleaners Community Food Bank. She found her calling. DeBruhl dedicated the next year to confirming that and honing her skills at Michigan State University’s Organic Farmer Training Program.

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Where’s the (Local) Beef?

Find Local Food, Molly Stepanski, Proteins, Retail, Stories

When I woke up today, the last breakfast I thought I’d be eating was kimchi and a myriad of unique pickled items including, but not limited to: roasted brussel sprouts, rutabaga, beef heart, asparagus, carrots, pork loin, whole smelt, and eggs, just to name a few. But Scott McQuarrie, farmer and owner of the Alpena General Store (AGS), had other ideas. Scott seems to frequently be a man of business innovation, and all things food and farming.

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Part Three: Making A Choice for Our Community

Brian Bates, Economy, Farmers Markets, Food Policy, Guest Post, Stories

This is Part Three of a three-part series from farmer Brian Bates of Bear Creek Organic Farm in Petoskey, Michigan. This essay was delivered as part of his keynote address to attendees at the Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network’s annual Farm Route to Prosperity Summit on February 17th of this year.

In parts one and two of the essay, Bates first describes his journey On Becoming A Farmer and then begins to demonstrate the lessons of Scale and Perspective learned from hands-on experience working at large farms in the US and elsewhere.


 

Part Three: Making a Choice for Our Community

BatesSlide20I think prosperity is defined by a community’s well-being. At Bear Creek, we are invested in our community and hopefully our community in us. We won’t relocate our factory tomorrow, and in the meantime, we shop locally, bank locally, ensure locally, employ locally. We teach others how to grow, and we welcome strangers to our farm.

We celebrate the deliciousness of our food, and we respond precisely to the needs of our community.

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Love of Local Food Leads to Tasty Partnerships

Event, Find Local Food, Guest Post, Sarah Peschel, Stories

Nearly 15 years ago Epicure Catering was born of a desire to showcase the best artisanal products our region has to offer. In a rented commercial kitchen, we gathered our cook friends and set to work creating menus highlighting producers and embodying the “farm to table” movement; a concept and practice that was just beginning to emerge in our area at the time. Our foundation was a duty to source from and support our local economy, and it remains the same today.  

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Part Two: Scale and Perspective

Brian Bates, Economy, Farmers Markets, Food Policy, Guest Post, Stories

Editor’s Note:

This is Part Two of a three-part series from farmer Brian Bates of Bear Creek Organic Farm in Petoskey, Michigan. This essay was delivered as part of his keynote address to attendees at the Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network’s annual Farm Route to Prosperity Summit on February 17th of this year. 

In Part One: On Becoming A Farmer, Bates describes some of the influences in his life that led him to become an organic farmer.  In this Part Two, he details an eye-opening journey that took him to a variety of farms around the world, learning what he could about the differences that scale makes in farming practices. And that, all in all, the farmers he worked with are not that different than him!


 

Part Two: Scale and Perspective

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We used to drive to the beach every year on the 4th of July and pass through the vast cornfields of Delaware. You may not have expected me to say Delaware, being that we’re in the Midwest, but at a certain scale, we become numb to the scale regardless of size – more on that later.

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Growing Local Food through Growing New Farmers

Find Local Food, Get Involved, Learn More, Melissa Orzechowski, Stories

Landen Tetil became the first farmer apprentice at Michigan State University’s North Farm in Chatham three years ago. The program aims to increase local food production in the Upper Peninsula and each year farmer apprentices begin in mid-March.