Day or night, you could savor the heavenly aroma of simmering chicken soup wafting through every corridor of my grandparents’ cavernous building. And although there were many apartments in their weathered brick Brooklyn low-rise, I never had even a moment of doubt that most of that scent was wafting from theirs.
Grandma Sadie, as my father’s Russian-born mother was known to all, barely cleared five feet in her sensible black shoes. But she ruled over soft-spoken Grandpa Frank and the rest of the family with an iron fist that, as far as I could see, had a soup ladle surgically attached. Up until she died, the winter that I turned 12, I don’t recall seeing her even once without an apron tied securely around her ample waist. And with more than 25 mouths to feed each Sunday, counting my many second cousins and assorted great aunts, who could have blamed her?
She was always so busy at the stove, in fact, that I’m not sure we ever had a single conversation. I can still hear her hoarse, matronly voice in my mind, seasoning other people’s tales of woe with horrified exclamations of “Oy, Gevalt,” or “Gut in Himmel!” Other than that, I couldn’t swear with any certainty that she even spoke much English.
If she did, and were she still here, I would have long ago beaten a path to her Borough Park door to beg for cooking lessons. Her methods may have been less than modern (see the reference to MBT bouillon cubes below), and farther still from healthy. I’d still kill for a slice of her spectacular golden sponge cake. Or a slurp of that chicken soup.
I’d like to believe that along with her gaudy diamond cocktail ring, I inherited a hefty helping of her spunk and a fraction of her culinary skill. Like her, I love to cook for a crowd, so family holiday dinners are usually hosted at my house. Everything is made from scratch, and no one seems to ever complain. There was one time, though, that, attempting to economize, I purchased a brisket that wasn’t kosher. And after watching everyone around the table chewing with valiant but much too visible effort, I vowed to never do that again. Whether you eat alone or with a houseful of relatives and friends, every meal should be a pleasure. So buy only the best meat, or even my Grandma’s recipe may turn out to be tough. And you don’t want that. Oy, Gevalt!
Preparation: (as told to my mother circa 1952)
Sear meat with garlic, salt, pepper and onions.
Add MBT bouillon cube to water and 1 can tomato sauce.
Bake in a 360 degree oven or cook on stove.
Slice one hour before finished (“no blood – tan inside”).
Put in pressure cooker in gravy.