Here’s a holiday treat you might not have known about. It’s ‘potica.’ Looks like ‘po-TEE-ka,’ but is pronounced ‘po-TEET-za.’ And, as potica aficionados will swear, it’s a ‘to-die-for’ dessert eaten most often between Thanksgiving and New Years.
Potica is a centuries-old Slovenian recipe brought here by immigrants nearly 150 years ago. It’s a nut roll pastry made from sweet yeast dough---rolled wafer-thin---and spread with a heavenly nut paste. But that’s just basic potica. Some recipes call for ground walnuts, poppy seeds and raisins. Honey is in every potica. Regionalism dictates ingredients
When it’s ready for the oven, it’s rolled into a log shape; think jellyroll. What emerges is a rich, decadent dessert that’s just this side of sinful. Yes. Sinful but worth the penance.
And while its origins are Slovenian, potica has been commandeered, re-engineered and embraced as their own by bakers all across central Europe and, since the late 19th century, southern Colorado, too. And Pueblo is potica country.
“Our potica is Slovenian,” said Carla Houghton, manager at Pueblo’s Mauro Farms and Bakery. But wherever you find central European immigrants, you also find potica. For them---and a growing number of others---it wouldn’t be the holidays without this melt-in-your-mouth, calorie-busting seasonal temptation.
As the nineteenth century wound down, immigrants became the backbone of the region’s coal mines and Pueblo’s steel mill. This ready-to-work wave brought with it culture and cuisine which, of course, included potica.
Janessa Straach found potica as a salvation. Or maybe, it found her. Once a Los Angeles-based road warrior insurance executive, Straach was criss-crossing time zones almost weekly. But the grind, the phone-call connections with family---most of whom were still in Colorado---and desire to do something new brought her home.
“I moved back to Pueblo,” said Straach, taking a break recently from rolling dough and mixing fillings to chat about potica. This holiday bread, she said, took her in a direction she never expected. Back in Pueblo, she found a new mooring.
“There was a lady who had a bakery and she hired me.” But, as Straach tells it, not long after starting on life’s ‘Plan B’, the bakery went “belly up.” Despite never learning her boss’s recipe---Straach says these family recipes are often taken to the grave---the Fowler native ultimately fine-tuned her own version. It was blue-ribbon good. Today you can find it at Janessa’s Gourmet Potica Company where Straach cracks the eggs, rolls the dough and sells the product.
Straach makes four varieties of this sinful concoction. “Walnut, Walnut-Raisin, Pecan and Almond,” she explained for probably the umpteenth time. “You roll out the dough as thin as you can,” said Straach. She says the dough used to be rolled on a bed sheet and that some old timers would boast of rolling it so thin, “you could see the design of the sheet.” Straach rolls her’s thin, too, but on a wooden surface. “You can see the grain of the wood through my dough,” she said without hint of vanity.
Both Houghton, whose family has Italian roots, and Straach are in ‘the season,’ and demand is high. Because Pueblo still reflects a community rich in Eastern and southern European families, potica’s popularity is confirmed every holiday season. “Most of my customers are looking for something similar to what their families used to make,” said Houghton.
But potica is just one piece of Houghton’s business. Most of the family revenue comes from farming. But a drought in the early 50’s forced the family to find another revenue source. That turned out to be fruit pies and potica. They’ve been selling briskly at 936 Lane 36 in Vineland ever since.
While the land has been good to them, so too, has potica. During the holidays, said Houghton, she’ll bake “five to seven hundred loaves a day.” She ships nationally and internationally.
By comparison, Straach’s operation is boutique. Still, when the clock tolls on potica season in early January, she’ll have put her wrappings on as many as two-thousand specialty loaves. She also ships across the country and around the world. “I’ve sent potica to Guam and Hawaii.”
Straach’s one-woman show gets a lot of its far flung customers as a result of a seasonal gig a few miles down the road. Tourists, she said, get their first taste of potica during the summer at the Colorado City Farmers Market where they taste samples. One bite into this decadent dessert, she swears, is all it takes. Once home, their orders follow.
Potica’s usually served at meal’s end with coffee. But for some---‘potica purists’---it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner. “Traditionally the Slovenians would make a (potica) sandwich with black forest ham,” said Straach. Because it’s “very high carb,” it would get them through their day. It’s also a staple for her, too. She eats a piece or two every day. But, working twelve to fourteen hours a day, six days a week during peak season keeps the potica from converting to pounds.
Straach sells four varieties; the largest a two-pound roll priced at twenty dollars. She sells smaller sizes, too. There’s also a one-dollar premium for raisin-walnut varieties. Her potica can be ordered on-line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Customers can also order over the phone at 719-250-0469. Houghton’s potica is also available on-line at www.maurofarms.com or by calling 800-856-3582.
Like so many holiday treats, potica is both mouth-watering and diet-busting. “Is it fattening,” asked Houghton. “I’m not going to worry about it. If somebody’s going to buy it, they’re not worried about their weight.”