Monday, January 24, 2011

Memories of Batavia

     We all have favorite childhood memories. Many of mine took place in Batavia, Ohio. Aunt Irma and Uncle Carl managed a tobacco farm with a big farmhouse, a beautiful lake, a large barn and lots of outbuildings. In any given year there were hutches of rabbits, dogs, and cats with litters of kittens. We drove each year from Maryland to visit for a week. It was kid nirvana. Especially the lake. The men would go frog-gigging at night and the Moms would fry up the legs for a feast. It probably sounds awful, but they really were tasty. I always wanted to go along with the men but was told it was too dangerous. Flashlights, darkness, tipsy boats, deep water and long spears called gigs--did make for a haunting image in my young mind.

     We spent idyllic hours fishing from the bank of the lake. My cousins Steve and Jeff were a lot of fun. Other cousins came to visit while we were there. Along with my brothers we’d fish, play in the old tobacco barn, run around like nuts inside the farmhouse, and play wiffle-ball or Sunday-ball in the yard. There was a long gravel lane with grass growing in the center that headed up to the farm. A screened-in porch wrapped around the frame house. One of the doors had an old-fashioned doorbell that you would twist like a wind-up music box, only it was bigger and made a very loud, brassy sound.

     I can’t remember exactly why the house had two kitchens, but one had to be entered from the outside. There was a second refrigerator in it and (sorry, Aunt Irm!) we would sneak in and snitch food and soda pop. Grandma Breiner would make the family’s favorite dessert, Dobos Torte, and store it in the extra refrigerator. Nothing escaped our kid eyes. Dobos Torte was and is far better than any dessert. Created by Hungarian baker Jozsef Dobos in 1906, my Grandmother’s version had about a dozen thin sponge cake layers filled with chocolate-coffee buttercream and iced with a thick Hungarian chocolate frosting. Sliced thinly, it was an experience like no other. It melted in your mouth and left you smiling for hours.

     When the smiles wore off and clarity returned, we snuck into the second kitchen. We were stealthy. We’d open the refrigerator as softly as we could (back then they had big clunky latches). With a knife slipped from the main kitchen we’d make precise, surgical cuts so that no one would ever know we had been there. I can imagine the taste now.

     As a young adult I baked Dobos Tortes for a local restaurant. At that time there were no warnings about using raw egg in dishes; the buttercream and icing incorporated them. Thankfully, no one was ever reported ill. It was the hit on the menu. Later I adapted the recipe and stopped using raw eggs. Not exactly the same, the buttercream a little softer, but still pretty heavenly. A couple years ago I sent one in to Bruce’s office for the Christmas Party and Dessert Contest. I knew it would be a shoe-in. I told Bruce to be sure to refrigerate it until about an hour before serving. I arrived late to the party, the judging had been done. The Dobos Torte was slumped and resembled pudding squishing out of the sides of a stack of askew pancakes. It didn’t win. Bruce was sure I told him expressly not to refrigerate it. It was okay. A lot of people still came up and said it tasted really good. We still laugh.

     We’re due for a Dobos Torte. I wish I hadn’t started Weight Watchers just yet, or that I’d thought to make it a few weeks ago. It must be about 157 (plus) points on the PointsPlus Program. But then, some things are just worth it; I’ll make it soon and post pictures and the recipe.

     My children will have some of the wonderful memories I had from my childhood. They are growing up on a farm with a big house, a barn, a pond and lots of animals. Though I don’t think their mother will fry up frog’s legs, I will make Dobos Torte for them. And, no doubt, they will try to sneak thin slices when no one is looking. I know I will.

God bless you with good memories,

The Abbey Farm


  1. Oh Suzy, how do you find the time???! You astound me!!! Loved your description of Aunt Irma & Uncle Carl's farm! My favorite memory was jumping from the loft of the barn down into hay! Good times!!! Thanks for reviving the memory! Love, Betts

  2. Awesome! It is amazing how much a difference a few years in age can make. I have memories of the farm, but much for from a little kid perspective. I remember fishing, catching blue gills, and throwing them back, except keeping out one to feed to the cats. I remember playing hide and seek in the corn field. Don't think I ever jumped from the loft into the hay or "borrowed" a soda pop!

  3. Jon, you were too adorable and sweet to snitch soda or for anyone to let you jump from a hayloft! Betts, I had forgotten that; wasn't there a rope?? It was so sad when we heard the barn had burned down. Jon, were you included in our goofy "Johnny Smoke" game in the barn? Ironic because wasn't Johnny Smoke a campaign against cigarettes?
    There are a couple of older posts in which I mention Grandma. Hope you like them.
    Oh, Betts, I sneak the time when I can!
    Love to you both!

  4. Suzy, for the record, I NEVER took ANY food out of that "2nd refrigerator" - okay, maybe a soda pop, or two, but no food.

    I have so many memories of the times we spent at that farm. The original barn... it seems like only about three visits before the fire. Yet the images in my mind are vivid. And the smells too! The hay... the fish. Yes, the lake... the endless Blue Gills. The dogs. Big Queenie and the little dachshunds. The old water pump. The big meals at the kitchen table. Sitting around listening, or watching a Reds game. Staying up late talking with Steve and Jeff as we all camped out on their bedroom floor. The fun we would have going from room to room in that old house. And the fun on the porch. Oh, and me, seemingly breaking at least one thing at the farm, every time I visited - mostly glass windows(still feeling sorry about that to this day, Aunt Irma and Uncle Carl). Steve and me chasing Suzy and Jeff around the farm house trying to put "tighty-whities" over their heads. Being young enough that mom and Aunt Irma would bathe more than one of the kids at the same time. I can remember at least one of us still being potty trained. :)

    I remember all of us going to a drive-in-theater and watching a double feature of Goodbye Columbus and True Grit back in 1969, or 1970. Lots of bike ridng and wiffle ball. I remember working on the roof of one of the sheds with brothers Al and Dave in the hot sun. I remember fishing, fishing and more fishing. I remember the loooooooooooooooooooong walk to the lake, and back. Loved it! I remember racing from the lake, back to the house to beat the downpour of a thunder storm.

    So many more memories, but I don't want to turn this into my blog. I'll just finish by saying that most of all, I remember the great bond of family love.

    So many great memories. Thank you Aunt Irma, Uncle Carl, Steve and Jeff!