Its origins are Croatian or Serbian, depending on whom you ask. But, since the Croats and Serbs aren’t going to agree on anything, let’s just say Eastern European and move on.
By DAVE ECKERT
I’m talking about Povitica, that yummy “swirled” bread that mostly sweet, sometimes savory, and always, always delicious.
For some background, I turned to the website About.com. As we all know, if it’s on the internet, it has to be true, so here you go.
“Povitica (poh-veh-TEET-sah), also known as Potica (poh-TEET-sah), is a yeast-raised dough rolled around a variety of fillings — sweet or savory.
Its name derives from the Slovenian word povitica, which means “to wrap in.” Every family has its favorite recipe and a walnut povitica, the most popular kind, can vary from one household to the next.
Sweet povitica can be served as dessert with coffee or dry white wine, and savory povitica is delicious as a side to the main meal or as a snack with cold beer.”
That’s all well and good, but what about the provitica that we see here in Kansas City?
There are, I’ve been told, three bakeries in town that make povitica. Strawberry Hill Povitica Co. by far makes the most.
I had the chance to visit and tour the company’s bakery recently and speak to Marc O’Leary, one of the two brothers who own the company and are entrusted with the history and culture that comes with that.
According to O’Leary, the history of poviticia in Kansas City goes like this: In the late 1800s, a group of Eastern European immigrants came to town looking for work. The meat packing business was the perfect fit, so the men and their families settled in the West Bottoms in Kansas City, Missouri.
They worked in the Stockyards and lived in the bottoms until a flood in 1903 washed them out and forced them across the river and onto higher ground in Kansas City, Kan. They settled on what was known as The Strawberry Patch or Strawberry Hill.
“A lot people think we called it Strawberry Hill because we planted strawberries when we moved there,” O’Leary told me. “What they don’t realize is that the entire hill was already covered with strawberries. The patches had to be taken out to build our houses.”
They built their homes and brought their home-made povitica recipes with them.
Fast forward to 1984, when, using recipes from both sides of his family, and their well-kept Povitica “secrets,” Harley O’Leary started the Strawberry Hill Povitica Co. in the heart of Strawberry Hill.
It was a hobby at first, but as word spread, so did the demand for Strawberry Hill povitica.
Harley O’Leary passed away in 1999, but he left a company on the rise. But I don’t think even he would have believed the growth Strawberry Hill Povitica has seen in recent years.
“We’ve had double-digit growth for every year for the past several years,” Marc O’Leary told me. Last year, the growth was even more dramatic thanks in part to nearly 25-appearances on the home shopping network, QVC.
“They approached us for a long time before we could reach a deal on price,” O’Leary said. Then, finally, they gave us a proposal we agreed on, and off we went. We did a handful of appearances last year, then about 23 or 24 this year.”
O’Leary said the company even came up with a new flavor exclusive to QVC — one that will be rolled, or should I say, “swirled,” into the offerings when the television pitches are over.
I got the chance to watch the baking process during my tour, and it was truly impressive. Strawberry Hill povitica starts with a super-secret sweet dough recipe. The dough is put through a pasta machine, which thins it out.
Then, workers grab the individual sheets and stretch them out, making them even thinner. They’re then handed off to the bakers, who apply the exact right amount of filling — one and a half pounds for the classic English Walnut.
The baker then rolls it up, closes the two ends, flips it over a couple of times, and slams it into a baking pan so it takes on that classic povitica shape and consistency. When finished, each loaf weighs an impressive two and a half pounds.
Strawberry Hill makes 11 different types of povitica, 12 counting the QVC creation.
“We’re representing a culture, a tradition,” O’Leary mused. “There isn’t a single time that I’ve gone on QVC when someone doesn’t call in and start crying. I know how much this means to them, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure we produce the most authentic, delicious povitica we can.”
From its humble origins in Kansas City, Kan., to the entire country. That’s the success story that is the Strawberry Hill Provitica Co.
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.