May 03 2021 Recipes for Memories
Our Bubbie Ida Paperny, lived in the kitchen. Seriously. 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 also 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, how to bake Hanukkah cookies, how to set a beautiful table.
Unlike Bubbie Ida who never followed a written recipe – her culinary technique was called in Yiddish the fabulous word: shit-a-rine (“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, to be sure. But 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 cooking, tasting, laughing, celebrating, and eating together.
Putting the book together was a labor of love for Susie. When she finished this incredible project, she
presented a copy to each of our kids at Hanukkah when they were in their twenties. Our daughter Havi took one look at it 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.
A favorite recipe in Susie’s masterpiece is for matzah balls, a dumpling made from matzah meal, oil, and eggs. Ron’s Mom, known by her grandchildren as “Bubbie W.” – made big, fluffy, soft matzah balls of the Russian tradition that floated in a bowl of soup. Susie’s Dad – called “Zaydie K.” by his grandchildren – made golf-ball-size hard matzah balls of 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.”
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 and asked two questions of our son:
“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!”
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. And, to utilize the family cookbook validated thetime 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, kitchens, 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’tay-avon! Good appetite
Susie Wolfson is an early childhood educator, who has served in multiple positions. Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, adopted her “Mamaleh, Tataleh” (mother and child) program as the basis for their national program “Al Galgalim – Training Wheels” initiative. She co-founded and co-edited the magazine “Chicken Soup: To Nourish Jewish Family Life” which reached 10,000 Jewish families. After retiring from teaching, Susie founded Maizie’s Gourmet Popcorn Company, distributing her delicious popcorn to more than 2,000 grocery stores in California.
Ron Wolfson, among the leading Jewish educators and thinkers of our day, is the Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University and president of the Kripke Institute. In his own words “I love to write”, and his books include Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community, The Seven Questions You’re Asked in Heaven: Reviewing and Renewing Your Life on Earth, God’s To-Do List, and The Spirituality of Welcoming: How to Transform Your Congregation into a Sacred Community His most recent book, co-authored with Bruce Powell is “Raising A+ Human Beings: Crafting a Jewish School Culture of Academic Excellence and AP Kindness”
Feature Image: Susie Wolfson and granddaughter Ellie