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A Cookbook by Any Other Name

October 18, 2007 By:
Ethel Hofman, JE Feature
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The title is somewhat of a misnomer. The Holocaust Survivor Cookbook, published by Caras & Associates, goes far beyond a collection of recipes, memorable though they may be.

The table of contents starts out with a list of Holocaust survivors, containing more than 135 people from all over the world. From Austria, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Canada, Poland, Sweden, China, and from small towns and cities in America, the personal experiences -- some related to family members -- are both heartwarming and tragic. They tell of renewed lives away from the disastrous scenes of childhood, while others relay chilling memories of happy youths transformed overnight into nightmarish reality.

For Rachel Pirak, living in the small town of Koselovo, Czechoslovakia, it was 1944 when she, her siblings and parents were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz. Her 46-year-old mother was sent to the "showers" and gassed. Rachel survived slave labor in a munitions factory and was liberated in 1945.

Seventeen-year-old Bita Goldberg, in the camp of Parschniz, was able to worship on Jewish holidays because another young girl had managed to hold onto prayerbooks for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. At Passover, the girls feasted on what they could: potatoes and beets.

Rena Finder and her mother, Rozia Ferber, survived because they were on "Schindler's List." She writes: "I stand in front of the pictures (of her family) and remember how much love was in our lives."

 

And Jack ("Kuba") Glotzer was forced to witness his mother and 9-year-old brother shot to death at the liquidation of the Rohatyn ghetto in Poland. That and many more experiences preface recipes reminiscent of more peaceful, joyful times.

But the idea and creation of this book is both uplifting and inspiring. Fast-forward to 2005, when Sarah and Jonathan Caras, a young, newly married American couple made aliyah to establish their home in Jerusalem. Wanting to give something back to their new country, the two volunteered time at the Carmei Ha'ir Soup Kitchen, which serves some 500 meals daily to poor, hungry Israelis.

Naturally, family members travel to Israel to visit their children who have made aliyah. The mothers of Sarah and Jonathan were no different. Within months, Joanne Caras and Gisela Zerykier traveled together to Israel. Among the sites they visited was the Carmei Ha'ir Soup Kitchen.

In a recent telephone conversation, Joanne enthusiastically described her impressions: "It looks like an elegant restaurant ... waiters take orders, and the people are served with respect and dignity. Whoever can pay does so, and those who cannot don't. Moneys are collected in a tzedakah box."

The restaurant is not only used at lunchtime. It serves as a community center with a variety of programs. Jewish holidays are celebrated with holiday dishes. For families with very limited means, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and birthday parties are held. There are parties for Israel's armed forces, counseling sessions, and literary and artistic evenings. Many who benefit from these programs also give time to volunteer -- a way of contributing to the community.

Joanne was so moved that she decided to raise money to support the soup kitchen. Events moved quickly. Gisela's mother, who lived in Belgium, passed away, and so Gisela's moving tribute to her mother, a Holocaust survivor, was the spark that created the idea for the cookbook.

With family support, 100 stories and recipes from survivors from all over the world were collected, including some from people who escaped to Asia. Some stories were told in detail; others were reluctant to talk or write, noting that they had never before told their stories to anyone, not even to their children.

 

There are stories and poems written in desperation, as well as joy. Black-and-white photographs show children with parents, holiday gatherings around a festive table, teenagers in gardens -- all illustrating the carefree times before the Holocaust.

There are also photographs showing how survivors married and flourished. Families expanded to include children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren -- a continuing Jewish legacy and, to quote so many survivors, "our greatest blessing."

The recipes, although secondary, beautifully illustrate Jewish life before the Holocaust. Each evokes warmth, care, love, and the tantalizing aromas and tastes of home cooking remembered by those who suffered so much. Ingredients may be basic and ordinary, but mixed together, they've become irresistible.

The book describes how dishes were cooked (often in a communal oven), how women learned to cook from an early age, knowing how to turn out the best dishes by appearance and texture -- no measuring cups and spoons here, the reason some recipes are not as clear as contemporary ones.

Regina Freeman's recipe for sweet-and-sour cabbage, for example, lists no ingredients, just directions, while ingredients for Halina Herman's potato-onion soup are simply two large potatoes, one onion and one large carrot, assuming that the reader understands that the vegetables must be cut up or chopped, and cooked until tender.

Several recipes are published in the original handwriting; others use the metric system (a conversion table is included at the back of the book). One reads of how so many of the recipes made the trip from Europe to America, and how clever homemakers in their new country adapted old-style recipes using contemporary, "short-cut" ingredients and techniques, while still preserving the original tam, or "taste."

As the editors suggest, "accept them as they are, modify them or use them as a starting point -- and remember the history they contain."

For our readers, the recipes have been adapted to be clear and workable using the ingredients given. But this cookbook must be read to understand and appreciate the powerful mix of stories, remembrances and the resurrected recipes -- a whisper from our collective past.

The Holocaust Survivor Cookbook is dedicated to the memory of Abe Malnik of Dewey Beach, Del., who passed away just before publication, as well as to the 6 million Jews who did not survive. The book may be ordered via: www.survivorcook book.org. All proceeds benefit the Carmei Ha'ir Soup Kitchen in Jerusalem.

 

'Schipyeh'
(Dairy) This recipe is from Margarete Diener Levy, who notes that this was one of her father's favorite Polish dishes. These are basic proportions, adjust to taste.
1/2 cup or more sliced radishes
1/2 cup or more sliced scallions
1 cup small-curd cottage cheese, drained of liquids
pinch of salt and pepper

In a bowl, toss the radishes, scallions and cottage cheese.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve at room temperature.

Serves 2 to 3.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 72; protein, 9 g; carbohydrates, 2 g; fat, 3 g; cholesterol, 10 mg; sodium, 283 mg.
 

Felicia Bryn's Pickled Salmon
(Pareve) Ingredients may be halved to serve six.
12 pieces salmon fillet (4 oz. each)
2 cups water
1 cup white vinegar
8 bay leaves
8 black peppercorns
21/2 tsps. salt
1/2 cup sugar
3 onions, thinly sliced
juice of 1 large lemon

Place the salmon in a large, deep skillet. Pour the water and vinegar over the salmon.

Cover and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the bay leaves, peppercorns and salt; cook for 10 minutes longer.

Remove the salmon from the skillet and place in a deep dish.

Add the sugar, onions and lemon juice to the liquids in the skillet. Bring to boil over medium heat.

Remove bay leaves and peppercorns.

Cool slightly before pouring over the salmon.

Refrigerate. Serve cold.

Serves 12.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 240; protein, 23 g; carbohydrates, 8 g; fat, 12 g; cholesterol, 67 mg; sodium, 551 mg.

Anna's Sweet Onions on Party Rye

(Dairy)

From Anna Rahel Lilienfeld Klestadt

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 cup mayonnaise
20 slices party rye bread
2 sweet onions, very thinly sliced

In a bowl, combine 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese with the mayonnaise. Spread on the party rye bread.

Top with thinly sliced sweet onions and sprinkle the remaining cheese evenly over top.

Arrange on a baking sheet.

Broil (carefully) under preheated broiler until cheese and onions are crispy.

Makes 20 pieces.

Approximate nutrients per piece: calories, 128; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 8 g; fat, 10 g; cholesterol, 8 mg; sodium, 247 mg.
 

Anna Steinberger's Cabbage Rolls
(Meat)
Anna's technique of freezing the cabbage to soften when thawed is a good example of using a home kitchen appliance, unheard of in prewar Europe, to speed up preparation time.

1 large cabbage
olive oil
1 large onion, cut in large dice
2 cans (6 oz. each) tomato paste
2 tsps. minced garlic from a jar
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
11/2 lbs. lean ground beef
1/2 cup uncooked instant rice
2 Tbsps. chopped fresh parsley or 1 Tbsp. dried

Freeze the cabbage in a sealed plastic bag two to three days before needed.

When ready to use, defrost overnight in the refrigerator or for 1 hour in warm water. Separate into individual leaves.

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a large saucepan, heat about 1/4 cup oil over medium heat. Add the onion and fry until pale brown.

Stir in the tomato paste, garlic and 11/2 cups water. Bring to boil stirring to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine the meat with the rice, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper and the parsley. Place about 1/4 cup meat mixture on each cabbage leaf and roll up as for a jelly roll, tucking in the sides. Place seam-side down in a baking dish.

Repeat with meat mixture and cabbage leaves, placing the rolls in the baking dish so that they fit neatly together in one layer.

Pour the tomato mixture over top. Cover tightly.

Bake in the preheated oven for 11/2 hours, or until meat is cooked through. Test by cutting one of the rolls in half.

Freezes well.

Serves 8 to 10.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 239; protein, 17 g; carbohydrates, 16 g; fat, 12 g; cholesterol, 25 mg; sodium, 366 mg.
 

Cucumber Salad
(Pareve)

From Edyta Klein-Smith. She notes in this recipe "take one husband to peel and slice the cucumbers very thin by hand -- no Jewish princess should do this." I recommend using the food processor with slicing blade. Fennel, with its distinctive flavor and crunchiness, was a favorite Polish salad ingredient.

2 cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsps. boiling water
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 small bulb fennel, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Place the cucumber in a bowl. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

In a small saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the water and vinegar. Bring to boil over high heat. Cool slightly before pouring over the cucumbers.

Top with the chopped fennel.

Refrigerate and serve cold.

Serves 8.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 12; protein, 0 g; carbohydrates, 3 g; fat, 0 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 1 mg.
 

Leah Friedman's Strawberry 'Ice-Cream'
(Pareve)

Do not use pasteurized egg whites; they don't whip up stiffly. If you're wary about using uncooked egg whites, use another pareve recipe or serve a dessert of mixed fresh fruits steeped in apple juice or your favorite liqueur.

3 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 pint strawberries, hulls removed and sliced
Whisk the egg whites until they peak softly.

Add the sugar gradually, about 1/3 cup at a time, whisking between each addition. Add the lemon juice and vanilla with the last addition of sugar. Add half the strawberries and whisk at high speed. Add remaining strawberries, whisking until blended.

Pour into a 9x13 baking dish. Freeze until crystals begin to form at the edges. Whisk again and freeze.

Remove from freezer about 15 minutes before needed.

Serves 8 to 10.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 84; protein, 0 g; carbohydrates, 22 g; fat, 0 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 0 mg.
 

Gribenes
(Meat)

From Rosalyn "Reyzele" Kirkel. A favorite snack. Approximate nutrients per serving? You don't want to know. Suffice it to say, this is not low-cholesterol, low-calorie or low-sodium!

skin with fat attached from 1 chicken
1 cup chopped onion
salt to taste
Cut the chicken skin into 1-inch squares. Place in a large skillet along with half the onions. Sauté over medium-high heat for 5 minutes.

Add the remaining onions. Reduce heat to medium.

Sauté until skin and onions are brown and crispy. Sprinkle with salt to taste.

Eat warm or at room temperature.

Food Editor Ethel G. Hofman is author of Mackerel at Midnight, as well as a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

 

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