Homecooking With... Cheryl and Steve Kraus
As much as the modern culinary scene rewards innovation, it’s not hard to argue that the best recipes have history. Family recipes that span generations and nations seem to possess a supernatural ability to connect and sustain those inheritors willing to preserve them. In the Kraus family, carefully recorded variations on a Slovenian pastry called poteca are elevated to an almost sacred status.
For Steve, “Poteca is what makes it the holidays.” The swirled pastry with a nut filling resembles a giant cinnamon roll, and the Kraus family version is topped with pecans and cranberries. Although poteca is a customary dish in Slovenia, families take pride in having a unique version of their own. No man’s recipe is the same as his neighbor’s. After immigrating to America, Steve’s great grandmother swapped out the sugar in a traditional poteca for pineapple juice and doubled the amount of nuts. His grandmother Marge kept up her mother’s version (but doubled the pineapple juice) and passed it down to Steve’s dad, who can still remember her kneading the dough with her gnarled hands, punching it over and over. Marge spent days making enough for each of her six children’s families every year during the holidays.
Although not typically a holiday food, the bread is so labor-intensive that Steve’s grandmother Marge made it only for special occasions such as Easter and Christmas.
According to Steve’s dad, poteca is the only “real deal recipe from the old country” the family still makes. For Americans, to invest so much time in a loaf of bread is a subversive act. Even Slovenians laugh when poteca is mentioned because, as Steve puts it, “they know about it.”
Steve and his wife Cheryl continue the tradition, beginning last year to invite his entire family into their home to make poteca together at Christmas. Even their daughters, three-year-old Cecilia and twoyear- old Penny, got in on the action. Cecilia had fun and asked to be a part of every step of the process. New generations have put their own twists on the recipe; Steve’s mother adds bourbon and Cheryl sweetens it up by adding more sugar. One day, Steve and Cheryl hope, Penny and Cecilia will make a poteca all their own.
Steve and Cheryl seem to have been blessed by the bread gods. The rich history of bread making in his family is what encouraged Steve to attend intensive bread training courses at the French Culinary Institute in New York, where he would “make, shape and bake” pastries and artisan breads for eight hours a day. Since then the couple has opened their own muchloved bakery, Upcountry Provisions in Travelers Rest. They have already passed down their appreciation of bread to their daughters, and Marge’s Poteca Recipe is likely to anoint many generations of Kraus bakers to come. With their admirable dedication to both preservation and inventiveness, the Kraus family seems to have found the recipe for success.