Create Your Own Family Cookbook

Looking to make a family cookbook?  Click HERE.

A bit about our own family background: Bubbie Ida Paperny, Ron’s maternal grandmother, lived in the kitchen. She also loved in the kitchen. She loved when her four daughters helped her cook up a huge family Shabbat or holiday meal.

Our mothers too, excellent cooks both, worked for hours over hot stoves to make fabulous family meals. When we raised our own children, we loved involving them in crafting creative meals to celebrate birthdays, holidays, and special occasions. The smells and the tastes of favorite foods we cooked together are among our fondest family moments. And now that we are grandparents to two delicious grandchildren, we love nothing more than to teach them how to make matzah balls, bake Hanukkah cookies, and set a beautiful table. 

Shit-a-rein

Unlike Bubbie Ida, who never followed a written recipe—her culinary technique was called in Yiddish the fabulous word pronounced shit-a-rein (just throw it in)— we luckily have a collection of all these creative celebration ideas in a Wolfson family cookbook. The title of the book is Recipes for Memories. It’s not only a memoir, cookbook, and scrapbook; it is the story of our family.

Each of the three hundred pages features a favorite recipe. The instructions are surrounded by photos of the cooks, of children and grandchildren helping out, and the history of the dish. Some of the recipes are handwritten. Some are wine stained. Every page represents the living legacy of countless hours spent cooking, tasting, laughing, celebrating, and eating together. 

Thank you! This is my life!

Putting the book together was a labor of love for Susie. When she finished this incredible project, she presented copies to both of our kids, who were in their twenties, for Hanukkah. Our daughter, Havi, took one look at the book and broke down in tears of memory and gratitude. Susie was worried about giving it to Michael; a hipster and rock-music maven, he was not so into the Jewish thing at the time. Holding the book in his hands, Michael flipped through the pages in amazement and said: “Wow, Mom! Thank you! This is my life!” and proceeded to read every word on every page.

Floaters or sinkers?

A favorite recipe in Susie’s masterpiece is matzah balls, a dumpling made from matzah meal, oil, and eggs. Ron’s mom, known to her grandchildren as Bubbie W., made big, fluffy, soft matzah balls, in the Russian tradition, which floated in a bowl of soup. Susie’s dad—Zaydie K.—made golf-ball-sized matzah balls in the Polish tradition, “sinkers” that sank directly to the bottom of the bowl. Susie put both recipes and a photo of each grandparent on one page and titled it “Dueling Matzah Balls.”

Bubbie vs Zaydie

On Passover that year, Susie, as always, sent Michael, living in Portland, a care package of holiday foods and objects with the hope that it would encourage him to have some kind of celebration. The day after the second seder, Michael called to thank her for the package. “Mom, it was great that you included matzah-ball fixings. I actually had a few friends over, we had a little seder, and I made some chicken soup…and matzah balls…and I used your cookbook, Mom!” I thought Susie was going to fall off her chair when she heard that. She could hardly contain her curiosity: “Which recipe did you use…and how did they come out?”

Michael calmly replied: “Well, I was going for Bubbie…but they came out Zaydie!”

Continuity between generations

What a moment! In an instant, our worries about Michael’s relationship to Judaism and family were ameliorated. He understood how important it was to Susie for him not only to accept the gifts in the package, but to use them on his own Jewish journey. To utilize the family cookbook validated the time and love Susie had invested, both in shaping our family and assembling the book. And, to connect himself with his Bubbie and Zaydie demonstrated continuity between the generations. And, to report on the results of his matzah-ball-making experiment with sly humor reflected an underlying value in our family dynamic—the fuel of fun. 

Food and fun, kitchen and dining-room tables. When we grandparents cook with our children and grandchildren, we not only share our favorite foods. We share our values, our traditions, our stories, and, most importantly, our love.

B’tei’avon! Good appetite!

About the Authors

Susie Wolfson is a Jewish early childhood educator and co-author of Hadassah’s Al Galalim-Training Wheels curriculum.

Ron Wolfson is is the Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University and author of seventeen books about Jewish practice and institutional vitality.

Susie and Ron are the proud grandparents of two grandchildren, Ellie and Gabe Hall.