Monday, October 20, 2014

The Layer Cake of Heritage

  How many more years of Rouladen?
Thin shaved beef circling layers of hot, tender pickles and bacon.  Touch of mustard and gravy.   Meat melts like fudge on our tongues from stewing all day long; aroma hangs from the simmered pot of bacon based purple cabbage, with a touch of apple. 

Our standard, our center, our every Christmas Eve dinner.  The twelve dishes, the must eat a bite of all twelve for good luck, dinner.  Enter Karlovarska Becherovka, stomach medicine.  Face wincing shots of the mini liquor bottles set in rows beside the forest green Jager.  Half egg glasses handed painted with Devil’s Table (Hinterweidenthal) filled up to the edge.  Shots and sips precede dense layers of Black chocolate cake. Coffee just before goodnight.

I was born into Rouladen, Becherovka, Black cake, and cabbage.  Parades of taste, thick, sharp, distinct, bitter…..dangerous.  All were burned.  No one left dinner without some kind of fire.

The cake, a tribute to grandpa’s mom. She is the cake.  Her favorite food now the vessel of her remembrance, ritualized into our interpretive evening.  We eat the cake and think of her like an icon. 

Great grandma died right after I turned three. 

I remember the layout of her living room and the piece of peanut butter taffy she gave me when I was two.  It got stuck in my teeth and she laughed at me.  The fire burned, a gooey mess.  When she died, my grandmother never took on the taffy ritual. 

She fills her candy dish with M and Ms.  Constant, unspoken offerings always available, every holiday color M and Ms displayed in the crystal dish.  Sky blue and lemon for Easter, crimson and green for December.

The depth of ritual, decorating, food offerings – one of the last living gestures of grandma’s reverent Catholic past.  Altar to the Virgin Mary gone. The floor to ceiling tribute is left only as memory, way way back - left like the Sudatenland moons ago. 

My grandma’s father left the seminary, but never left religion.  He never left his passion for carving Jesus Christ crucified: dioramas of the crucifix in glass bottles.  Glass bottles, other people built ships in.

“How’d he do it,” I asked.

How do you make the crucifixion of Christ, diorama style inside a glass bottle?

“With a long toothpick” grandma said.

Rouladen, Becherovka, Black cake, and cabbage…add a couple of crucified Christs’ in bottles.  Ingredients that traveled over miles of ocean baked for 60 years into the dense layered cake of heritage.
Allison Distler for PGM


  1. I could taste it, smell it and feel it. Just beautiful.

  2. What a lyrically beautiful tribute to your heritage, which makes me salivate even more for your workshop on Saturday.