Vesna Rudelic of Mamaroneck is unmissable at any Westchester farmers’ market. Decked out in the jersey, baseball cap, and scarf of her native Croatia, Rudelic brings with her an enthusiasm for soccer eclipsed only by her love of baking. Tables festooned in a Croatian red-and-white check pattern are piled high with puff pastries, strudels, and cakes of her Dalmatian homeland, bursting with currants, jams, and nuts redolent of Adriatic shores.
Since the 2019 Larchmont Christmas Fair, Rudelic has become a fast favorite among locals looking for an authentic European dessert. On offer are hazelnut-filled “thumbprint” cookies, makovnjaca (poppy-seed swirl bread), almond strudels, and breskvice, or Croatian peach cookies: formidable, dense treats filled with crunchy raspberry goo, rum, and vanilla that must be turned sideways to fit in your mouth.
In Rijeka, the Croatian city of Rudelic’s youth, in a yard dominated by fig, apple, walnut, and plum trees, child’s play came after watering the crops. Then came the harvest and Mom’s impossibly stretched strudel dough, while Dad stashed aside enough fruit to make 400 liters of rakija, a fiery homemade brandy.
“There was no village store,” she says. “Every day was market day.” Her return to the outdoor food stalls of Westchester is, in fact, a road back home.
Poppy seeds were harvested in the fading light of the Illyrian Fall, and today, genetic ancestors of the poppy fields of home fill Rudelic’s breads and pastries, and the family still pitches in (her husband, Andelo, hand-grinds the seeds). In addition to regular market items, you can special-order cakes in advance, including delectable tiramisu. (Her website, naturally, accepts cookies.)