MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – As we celebrate the holidays this month, there’s no doubt that food is a major part of the party.

For immigrants, food from the homeland can be a real link that connects the past to the present.

That’s why Jason DeRusha sampled a Czech pastry so popular that it’s being sold throughout the state.

When Jan Gadzo came to the Iron Range in 1976 to work in energy engineering, this isn’t what he expected he’d be doing.

“I love to bake, and my wife loves to eat,” he said, noting that he’s not a baker by trade.

Minnesotans are loving his unique pastry roll, filled with crushed poppy seed or walnut filling.

It’s connecting them to their ethnic past.

“This is called a potica,” Gadzo said. “Potica is sort of an eastern European specialty [pastry] that was done basically for Christmas time only.”

There’s a large Slovak population on the Range, and Gadzo would make potica for coworkers, friends and family.

“You kind of get used to it, you can do it in your sleep,” he said.

A friend of his college-age son tried it and helped Gadzo get his potica from the home to Twin Cities grocery stores.

Andrej’s European Pastry is named for Gadzo ‘s dad.

“It takes the whole family,” he said. “Somebody has to break the walnuts, somebody’s got to grind the walnuts, somebody’s got to grind the poppy seeds. And me? I’m a big guy, so I would roll–help my mother to roll.”

Baking at Tobie’s Restaurant in Hinkley, now Gadzo creates 20,000 loaves of potica a year. He attributes the popularity of his potica to his dedication to quality, the hand-rolled loaves.

The dough is slightly sweet and the poppy seed filling is especially interesting.

“That is an acquired taste,” Gadzo said.

The crushed seeds release a poppy oil, which is almost fruity.

Gadzo knows many families have lost touch with the old recipes, or they don’t the time. He’s glad to connect people to family.

You can find the potica at Lunds, Byerlys and Kowalskis. Or you can order online.

It’s sold year round – and Gadzo recommends heating up the poppy seed loaves before you eat them.

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