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Posted by on Nov 4, 2013

Finding a Piece of my Grandma in Slovenia


Grandmothers always make the best dishes, don’t they? And our feeble attempts to recreate them can be frustrating, sad and downright depressing.

In my mom’s parent’s house, my grandpa did most of the everyday cooking, but my grandma had three specialties that would immediately bring all of her children and grandchildren into the kitchen. They were scones (more of a cookie than what we think of as a traditional scone), pasties (a meat, potato and vegetable filled pastry) and what we called roly poly. Roly poly was a jelly-rolled cake filled with nutty and sugary deliciousness and always best as it cooled down after being pulled from the oven. Growing up, I didn’t know anyone else who made roly poly and I was pretty sure that wasn’t the most commonly used name for it.

My grandma and I on my first birthday.

My grandma Auggie and me on my 1st birthday.

When my grandma passed away in 2002, we lost an amazing person and all three of these things. Our family has tried to recreate them in various ways and while we have had some light success with scones and pasties, no one can perfect roly poly. It takes a long time to make, requires a lot of patience and most of us have given up after just looking at the recipe.

Before my grandparents passed away, they also had a running controversy on where my grandmother’s family was from. My grandma insisted she was Austrian, while my grandpa insisted she was Slovenian. There was never a resolution so we have grown up knowing that we either have Austrian or Slovenian blood running through us. I’m not sure why my grandpa had a say since it wasn’t his side of the family, but he was persistent enough to make us believe him.

He may have been on to something.

We just spent more than a week traveling through Slovenia and if my grandma wasn’t from there, it sure is a place she would have loved. The tall mountains, fresh air, and miles and miles of walking paths would have been her thing. Like the Slovenians we met, she also had a great sense of humor and could match anyone wit for wit.

And then happened – I found roly poly.

In our rented apartment in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, I saw it when flipping through a cookbook. In Slovenia, it is called “potica,” but it was the real deal. Potica is a Slovenian recipe for a marvelous yeast bread, jelly-rolled around a filling of chopped nuts, honey, butter, cinnamon and raisins. It is said that Slovenian miners who settled in the upper Midwest (my grandma was from the Upper Pennisula in Michigan) introduced this sweet yeast bread to American cuisine. My real mission for Slovenia was then handed to me – to find potica and see if it was like grandma’s.

On one of our last days in town, we took the Ljubljana Free Walking Tour and I grabbed some down time with our guide Neja to ask her about potica and where I may get some. She had her own take on the Slovenian treat: “It is said in Slovenia that you can’t get married until you know how to make potica.” This was getting serious. Neja pointed to a few bakeries inside the city’s Central Market and said it would be the best place to find some.

The next morning, I ran down to the Central Market when it opened and wandered through the stalls. I found a few options that all looked similar so I paid my four euros and took half of a cake home.

Potica from Ljubljana's Central Market.

Potica from Ljubljana’s Central Market.

Basically skipping with excitement, I made it back to our apartment, unwrapped the cake and cut off a slice. It looked right. The dough was nicely rolled around the filling and the top crust was just crispy enough.

I took a bite and sank down into my chair in relief. It was “it”. Roly poly in Ljubljana. It wasn’t right out of the oven and could have been a little fresher, but the taste was the same and it made me ridiculously happy to be back in my grandma’s kitchen, eating a slice while she puttered around on the other side of the counter.

Happy morning with grandma's roly poly!

Happy morning with grandma’s roly poly!

We will probably never know if she was actually Austrian or Slovenian, but at least I finally know where to go when I need some roly poly. I even wrote down the cookbook recipe so I could make another feeble attempt at it this Christmas. If you’re game, here is a recipe.

What food did your grandma make that you miss? Where can you go in this world to find it?



  1. Grandma would be proud of the amazing woman her little Jill Ann has become. Pressure is on for baking the perfect “Roly Poly” this Christmas!

    Love you,

    • Yup, if she could only see me now! Maybe I’d get $5 for every country I visited rather than home run I hit in softball (which let’s be honest, I’d make way more money now than before).

  2. My grandma use to make the best dumplings. they were the size of a baseball and paired well with any pork, duck, and even rabbit dish she made.

    • Yum, Scott! We had dumplings of all kinds in Croatia and Slovenia (maybe Hungary too). So good. Feel free to make them for us when we’re home 🙂

  3. So sweet, such a heartwarming post about your grandma Auggie and roly poly. You look so HAPPY in your photo! My grandma Lucille (mom’s mom since both of my grandmothers were named Lucille) made divinity. It reminded me of puffy sugar clouds. You have started something. New Orleans may be a good place to start my divinity search, it’s a place she would have been singing, dancing, playing piano and making divinity. Grandmas are pure LOVE!

    • I love the name divinity for a sweet treat. If you need an assistant researcher in NOLA, keep me in mind! 🙂

      • Jen and Jill divinity search March 2014 NOLA!

  4. When you stay in our apartment in Chicago, if you look in the freezer, you will find a piece of coffee cake like the one that my Mom, Rose Freis Mozer used to make. It is a yeast dough with preserves, raisins, nuts(sometimes) and sugar and cinnamon. She used to make it for the New Year and I have always loved it. If you like, I will teach you how to make it. Lot of work. Like Jen, both my Mother and Mother-in-law had the same name, Rose. Hope you are having a great time. Love to both of you. Mona

    • Thanks Mona, I’ll be sure to look for it in the freezer!

  5. Trust me, I have tasted this delicacy many times
    in my life. I do not recall when or where but
    I have eaten it. dad

  6. Great post! I also had a potica-making grandmother (and mother) and am a SF Bay Area transplant by way of Chicago and before that, Cleveland. I’m of half-Slovenian heritage and bake potica every Christmas. That Slovenia/Austria confusion made me smile. Your grandparents were both right! Slovenia was a province of Austria when many of our ancestors immigrated, so that is what those Ellis Island passenger records would have said. (A little later, Slovenia became part of Yugoslavia, then finally became independent in 1991.) Slovenians, in Europe and in the US, were sometimes ashamed of their heritage and would call themselves Austrian, until someone outed them 🙂 (Do you know your grandmother’s maiden name?) I also tasted potica at the Central Market in Ljubljana–but I still like my Grandma’s and my Mom’s the best! I’ve included a link to the family recipe. Happy travels!

    • Wow, thanks for commenting Blair! I loved learning a bit more about the Slovenia-Austrian link. My grandmother’s maiden name was Musich. Thanks for sending the recipe too. My mom and I are going to attempt potica again this Christmas to see if we can finally do it! My grandma didn’t leave a recipe, she did it from memory so we’re sad to have lost her “real” version.