Originally published in Esquire, August, 1985. “Better you should call your Aunt Sara,” said my mother, phoning long-distance from Florida, and would I please hurry with the questions, even with Sprint it’s no bargain. “What are you trying to tell me?” I asked. “I’m not sure I want to hear this.” “I’m telling you I got the blintz recipe from books way back, one of those Jewish cookbooks, Mrs. Somebody’s cookbook, the woman on television and movies.” “You’re talking about Molly Goldberg. You’re telling me your famous blintz recipe came from CBS?” “Not totally. I got a lot of fine points from your Aunt Sara, too.” “I thought the recipe was handed down, generation to generation. You learn from your mother and I learn from my mother and so on.” My mother paused. “Your grandmother, you know, was not such a great cook.” I called my Aunt Sara in California. I’m sure that if a blintz recipe had been part of the family, the relatives wouldn’t have scattered like this. Sara refused to take credit. “Your mother was really the blintz expert,” she said. “When we traded recipes, she had the one for the blintz and I had the one for the chopped liver.” “I don’t care about chopped liver,” I said, my face as red as borscht. “Just tell me this: Did you or did you not give my mother her recipe for blintzes.” “Not me,” she said. “I’m too lazy and blintzes are a pain in the neck. Your mother was always the best.” I got my mother back on the phone. I was blunt. “If you want me to visit over the holidays, you give me your blintz recipe right now.” Read the rest of this entry » This post was submitted by AlanRichman.
Note: Originally published in Stirring with Knives. It was 1984 , I’d just turned 5. I was a West German girl living in Cologne. The most important things in my life were Carebears, my eraser collection, my turtles Trollie and Mollie and Haribo cola bottles –in that order. Read the rest of this entry » This post was submitted by Caroline Hobkinson.
My Dad, Irving Naxon, invented the crock pot, the then-called Naxon Beanery. He retired in 1971 and sold his business to Rival Manufacturing. They streamlined the design, renamed it the crock pot, and the rest is American culinary history. But what was his inspiration for its creation in the first place, you might ask? Read the rest of this entry » This post was submitted by Lenore Naxon.
I knew my mother was not coming back the day my aunt unpacked the Pesach brisket from her suitcase. Eight months after Mom died, I could sometimes still fool myself into imagining my mother was on some sort of extended vacation. I blocked out the days and nights at her hospital bed, as my agitated mother struggled for words to describe what she needed. “I want to sit up…. And see the seagulls….” I finally figured out that she wanted a deck chair. By that time the breast cancer had metastasized to her brain, the doctors said. There was nothing they could do. Mom was only conscious in hospice for a day or two before she closed her eyes and waited for her body to die. She was seemingly comfortable, at least. My three aunts and my own sister and I sat vigil beside her, passing strange hours punctuated by tearful cell phone calls and generous servings of donated hospice cakes. My grandmother, 92 and unable to travel across the country to be by her daughter’s side, received updates from her daughters. Curiously, my father visited less than one would have expected after 49 years of marriage. After mom’s abrupt hospitalization and decline, he seemed to operate in a state of shock. But the frozen mass of meat that emerged from my aunt’s suitcase was unmistakable proof. My mother was not preparing Passover dinner. She would never prepare it again. And,yes, my Aunt is insane. Who brings blocks of frozen meat in their carryon bag? “What did the TSA think?” I wondered aloud. The brisket itself didn’t mean much to me. As a fish-eating vegetarian, I found the other Passover dishes much more appetizing. But I understood. This would be the first big family holiday without my mother and my grandmother. Six months after her eldest daughter died, my grandmother died as well. The emptiness had to be filled somehow. So there we were, the survivors, probably still in grief and shock, going through the motions of a proper holiday, as much for my father and my children as anything else. The brisket was defrosted, reheated and served. I prepared my mother’s famous chopped and fried, “English-style” gefilte fish that she recalled her own grandmother making for the holiday. I even willed myself to follow my mother’s rituals for preparing the fish, careful to choose a non-windy morning on which to fry outside so that my kitchen wouldn’t smell of grease for days. Matzo balls were shaped and boiled, two types of charoset were prepared. My sister, father and I had the annual argument about how to place the extra table in the entry way. Guests sat down for the seder, to eat and drink sweet wine and sing Chad Gadya. The children fought about who really found the Afikomen and who cheated. Amazingly, life went on, even without my mother and grandmother. My aunt and sister and I went through the motions of preparing the seder despite of—or perhaps because of—the emptiness. And while the motions and the rituals couldn’t bring our beloved ones back, like Passover itself, they reminded us that we were beginning our own journey into the unknown. This post was submitted by nsandweiss.
My Nanny made the best mushroom barley soup. Her recipe was her mother’s, my Grandma Anna’s, who was known to be a great cook, and while I knew my Grandma Anna for many years, she was well beyond her cooking phase by the time I was born, so I grew up with fantasies of my great-grandmother’s soup and the pleasure of my grandmother’s soup. This soup was at every family event. Jewish holidays, American holidays, birthdays, weekend visits, winter vacations. I knew that whenever I showed up, there would be fresh, hearty, delicious soup waiting just for me. So, one college vacation, when both I would be at home and my Nanny would be visiting, I organized a lock-down. We were going to write down this recipe, once and for all, a recipe replete with handfuls of salt, water up the big chip in the enamel pot, meat products that you had to special order from the butcher, herbs tied with white string that only got added at the end of cooking. I had images that as my Nanny prepared the soup, I would have her pause so I could measure and quantify and record. And then we were side by side in the kitchen. She pulled out her cooking utensils, her fresh herbs and vegetables. However, she couldn’t quite remember whether it was a turnip or a parsnip that got added. I am grateful for this mystery, though, because the last item she pulled out was a package of Maneschewitz Mushroom Barley soup mix! Seems this soup, a core of my family’s meals, a soup that wafted immigrant and tradition and connection and cooking-all-day-on-the-back-of-the-stove richness, didn’t have as much mystery to it as I had endowed it all these years. And yet, it is still “The Soup”. Mention it to my brother or my cousins, and they will wistfully think back to eating that soup. I have yet to share the recipe, which I did write down, with my cousin. I can’t even eat the soup anymore because of allergies. And yet, it will live on. My children know that I grew up on this soup, and for them, it is part of our family history. When they move into their own homes, this recipe will be gifted to them. Because even if you start with a package of soup, needing to talk to the butcher to get ingredients, wrapping white string around herbs that only get added at the end of cooking, and asking everyone you know what the difference is between a turnip and a parsnip makes a soup that is anything but common. This post was submitted by dherman.
Sarah, the woman featured in this 11-minute Youtube video on how to make the best gefilte fish, was (or perhaps still is) employed by a Jewish household in Cape Town, South Africa. Sarah is a “Colored” woman, which in S. African English means she is of mixed races, possibly including whites, blacks, Malaysians and / or Indian ancestors. She is definitely not Jewish. The video of her giving us a demonstration is in English, although she sometimes breaks into Afrikaans (her mother tongue) and Yiddish – learned from her employers. She speaks in the strong South African accent of the Cape Malays. Her charming laid back attitude is as delicious as her fish. The lesson I learned (aside from how to make the fish) is that we are all equal and deserving of respect. This post was submitted by Jonathan.
Annie Mae was born December 14, 1918 in Maysville, South Carolina and attended school in Marion, South Carolina. In 1945, Annie Mae married James Green in New York City. She worked for my family from 1948 until her retirement 60 years later. Read the rest of this entry » This post was submitted by Gloria Kobrin.
My Great Great Grandma Ida (Chaya) Danzig died in 1914 in Manhattan. Her parents were killed in a pogrom in Russia. GGG Ida lived in a town about ten miles away from Minsk called Hataivich. She owned and ran a brewery while her husband Simcha ran a lumber business. They grew some of the food they consumed on their own land and bought the rest of what they needed from local farmers. Read the rest of this entry » This post was submitted by Gloria Kobrin.
My cousin Rose, (not my first cousin), is 99 years old. She is my late grandfather’s first cousin, and was the sole surviving relative from the war. To us, she is our surrogate Bubby. Nothing gets her more excited than, well, me actually, (“why i’m in love mit you?? I’m not gay!!”) and baking rugelach. When all her motivation and energy has waned and she wants nothing more than to lie in bed all day, you can say “Cousin Rose, wanna bake?” and she jumps out of bed and says “shu-we!!!” (thats, “sure” in her thick polish accent), followed by “you have east??” (yeast). Then goes on to prepare her “rustchinya” which is the starter dough. and loses herself in the magic of baking. For Succot this past year, she baked over 100 rugelach, filling our home with the delicious aroma of the “good ol days in europe” that only she can bring. This post was submitted by AvivaKanoff.