About a month ago, I located a treasure trove in my stepmother’s house, a cache of leather-bound books with gilded sides and moiré endsheets, some of these journals embossed “Hostess Book,” and some with my stepmother’s initials, on the front cover. For the last four decades my stepmother — actually my ex-stepmother, but once a family reaches that title, I feel you can freely style your preferred designation — has kept a log of nearly every dinner party she has given. Until I found them, she never thought this news enough to share with anyone. There are 10 books, and they tell the story of one woman’s life in meals.
And they are fabulous meals, almost all of them, because my stepmother, an event planner with Cordon Bleu abilities in the kitchen and a real interest in style and novelty on the plate, has nearly always specialized in those — the dinner parties you leave, thinking, “wow, life can be that beautiful?”
That being said, her first dinner party, given when she was a teenager, in her rooms at Newnham College, Cambridge, features freeze-dried curry from a package. But the very fact that this young English girl, studying mathematics, thought this meal inaugural enough to require the purchase of a leather-bound hostess diary from Harrods, shows that from the first, there was aspiration in the endeavour.
In a way, aspiration is more or less the point of the dinner party. The dinner party has generous amounts of domestic show-offery embedded within its form. But there is also the possibility of art, true art: the banal corners of the home — the kitchen, the eating table — transformed into a stage, for one night only.
This post was submitted by MireilleSilcoff.
My favorite memories from childhood involve sitting at my grandmother’s table late at night eating cherry vanilla from Carvel.
She was a Holocaust survivor and just the most loving, generous, gorgeous Bubby in the world. Going to her house for a sleepover was the most wonderful experience. In the grand tradition of Bubbies she’d shamelessly indulge me for a couple of days, and it was heavenly.
Want homemade potato knishes for breakfast? Done. A little snack of pickled herring and rye bread at 10 a.m.? Why not? But it was the late nights that I dream about sometimes.
We keep kosher, so if we wanted ice cream for dessert we’d have to wait the requisite 6 hours after finishing our lamb or veal chops to be able to eat dairy. So we’d watch movies and pore over the latest Vogue and just talk and talk until it was time. Then we’d crack open that plastic tub and eat way, way more than was good for me.
I’d certainly love to be able to eat that much ice cream again without feeling guilty, but I would give anything in the world to just sit at that table one more time.
This post was submitted by DinaHeiss.
Once upon a time, in the early 1900s, there was a boy who came to the U.S. from Bialystock, Poland. His name was Abraham Rosenfeld and he was my father. He married my mother, Esther Droutman and together they had 5 girls. My father made a career for himself as a baker and for 25 years, together with Esther they owned the Famous Bakery in Union City, New Jersey. My father has been gone 20 years, but his memory lives on when I see my grand-daughter Sadie who is 2 years old, baking her own perfect challah like her Zaide once did.
The dough was mixed by machine, but all of the bread was made by hand at great speed. My fathers fingers and hands were big and strong. His bread was so good that he had a delivery truck that my mother drove and she would deliver the bread before dawn to restaurants and grocery stores. I remember my father making enormous challot. That is why when my second
granddaughter Livie was born, it was so necessary for me to have the bakery make the largest challah for the kiddush. It was 6 feet long! If my father was alive, this would have been the norm!
This post was submitted by PhyllisWestling.
We never called her Bubbie. We called the lady named Anuschka Serdahely Fulop “Grendma,” because that’s what she called herself.
Grendma: “Sveeetheart, det’s you GRENDma!”
Me, Susie, age 9: “Grandma, the second I hear your voice I know it’s you.”
Grendma: “Vell suuure!!! Det vould’n be me, who vould det be? Suu-sie, you van’ go pick cherries at Mrs. Thomas house? Cherries is ripe, Grendma and Mrs. Thomas is going make cherries jam, but old ladies too fet to climb in det tree.”
Susie: “Sure, I love the cherry tree. And the palacsinta with cherry jam. Will you make some?”
Grendma: “Vell, sure!” Sveetheart, I van’ to know vat is right talking English… [Oh no, oh no…another grammatical abyss yawns before me.] One voman, two vomen, three vomans? Det’s right?”
Susie: Uh, yes – yes, that’s right. [I knew better than to ever get into this kind of conservation.]
Grenda was born in Hungary in 1884. First kitchen job at age 6: standing on a box in the kitchen kneading bread on the wooden table top at the crack of dawn every morning.
“If I am not turn det bread, punch det bread hard enough my mudder will kick me ven she valk by.” At 19, Grendma immigrated to Milwaukee to join her sister, and was forced to marry Janos Fulop at age 20. Many years later when my cousin went to tell Grendma that she was leaving her husband because she didn’t love him anymore, Grendma said, “Yo!, I marry to you grendfather 17 years – who loved him?”
She started the butcher shop in a neighborhood then called Johnson’s Woods. There she made the soon to-be-famous Hungarian sausages, especially the spicy orange ones that people would line up around the block to buy on Saturday morning.
She dragged beef carcasses across the yard, chopped countless heads off countless chickens, ducks, and sometimes a goose.
“Sveetheart, you dasn’t make duck or goose – det’s too much fet. Det’s real dangerous, you drop det fet on you foot – oh boy.”
While she dragged, hauled, toiled, and rendered lard for every purpose, the grandfather I never met played his violin on the front steps of the shop, “sitting on det step, he is drinking warm red vine from a pan on da stove all day. He never like Milwaukee.”
When I was a girl, the menu for Thanksgiving at Grendma’s was set in stone. Turkey, stuffing made with chicken livers and parsley, duck, fried chicken, rice pilaf, beets (beets were a holy food in Grendma’s house, harvested from sacred beet plot beside the garage.)
Grendma would stand at the head of the table with a glass of “Morgen David” in hand, look around at all her sons and the rest of us, and say, “Tenks God ve is all healt’y!”
Salad was called “sha-lah-day.” Every time, she would turn to my step-grandfather and ask, “Old man, you van’ shalahday?” And every time, he would answer, “No! I don’ van no shaladay. I don’ like shalahday.” My brother and I still say this when passing the salad.
And then, when all the uncles were torpid, seeming acres of retes [strudel) that had been cooling under towels on the back porch were put before us. Apple, poppy-seed, and walnut. And after that, the piece de resistance would be carried into the dining room on a vast tray by Grendma.
Small glass dishes of shimmering, red American Jello, “Sveethearts, now is come – Jello!” Brought to us by Grendma, who happened to be born on the 4th of July.
This post was submitted by Susan Kepner.
My parents were Holocaust survivors. Even my brother was born in Europe. I was born 3 weeks after they came to America. In other ways, though, we were pretty ordinary. My dad worked 6 days a week, my mom watched her kids and the neighbors’ kids; my brother and I fought like cats and dogs.
The one thing my brother and I agreed on was mom’s marble cake- the best ever. Because she wasn’t familiar with American products or measurements, she created all her own recipes. As the years went by, I realized I would never be able to re-create those treats, so I asked her to measure out her handfuls of flour and scoops of sugar, and write everything down.
My mom dies 6 years ago and I inherited her cookbook, along with the magical marble cake. She had faithfully recorded the flour and sugar in cups and tablespoons. The wet ingredients, however, said “a spoon sour cream” and “a glass milk.” I still haven’t gotten it right.
This post was submitted by Fran Samuels.
Everything that my grandmother made, tasted good. I remember going over to my grandparents house for the weekend, and having coffee in my little tin cup. It was delicious!
I also enjoyed the way my grandmother made MAYPO. I found out as an adult what made it so special was she warmed the milk and poured it over the MAYPO. Delicious.
What I will always remember is when my grandmother would make my favorite cake- “German Sweet Chocolate Cake” for my birthday. Yummy! When I was about 13, my grandmother taught me how to bake that cake, and I was in cake heaven. Needless to say, German Chocolate cake became my favorite cake and everyone elses. I became the German Chocolate cake-baker thanks to my Grandma
This post was submitted by Robin Stephens.
With a name like Weinerman, one would think we had some secret family recipes. We DID NOT. The only thing my mother and grandmother made was oatmeal and reservations…..with love.
Because Weinerman was difficult for Goyim to spell, my father started calling himself Dr. Winters. He wasn’t a doctor, he just thought he could get a better table if he said that. I guess that was a secret recipe after all.
This post was submitted by Vicki Winters nee Weinerman.
Back in high school when I was 14, I accidentally used baking soda instead of flour in my first ever sponge cake baking effort….
Needless to say, the “cake” exploded in the oven – the rest of the class was spent learning how to clean the oven! My grandmother was mortified
This post was submitted by Fiona Whitby.
My earliest childhood memory of food was when my parents and I would go to Flushing on Saturday mornings to buy live crab. We would take them home and I would race them on my kitchen floor til It was time for mom to throw in boiling water.
Then we would feast on crab on top of newspaper sheets on our patio deck wooden table. Great times with family and food!
This post was submitted by Cynthia Martin.
The first time my parents left me alone with my younger brothers, my mom left food, including a cooked tongue. Remembering that I’d seen my mother take off the skin, I started cutting away- making the very smooth curved tongue, look strangely angular.
A while later, my 4 years younger brother entered the kitchen, took a look and asked what I was doing. He had a good laugh when he said “it’s off already.” No wonder I was having so much trouble!!
This post was submitted by Judith Sussman.