Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Hiller Weisblat’

Nana’s Matzo Ball Soup

9 April 2009
matzo-ball-soupweb
 
A Note to Readers:
 
 
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.
  
Tinky
 
Food makes memory concrete in a way nothing else can—except perhaps music. When we make or taste a dish we forge a physical, sensory link to the person who inspired or gave us the recipe. We can almost reach out and touch the dead, nourished by their love.

Laura at the blog The Spiced Life understands this connection. She is hosting a blogging event in which she asks food bloggers to write about their grandmothers’ culinary accomplishments. I went to my paternal grandmother’s house every spring for Passover so I tend to think of her a lot at this time of year.  

 
 

The Logo for Laura's Blogging Event

The Logo for Laura's Blogging Event

My father’s mother wasn’t what I’d call kitchen oriented. As a young woman she lived a busy life outside the home instead of cooking. We were told she had been a spy in her youth (or at least a smuggler—the tales were all a little murky).

Sarah Hiller Weisblat came to this country from Poland in 1920 with her husband and three small children. Her brothers had already immigrated and set up a business in New York City; they gave my grandfather a job so that he could support the family.

 

My grandmother had many skills. She and her mother, who also immigrated (although she refused to learn English), ran their family and eventually their new neighborhood.  

 

My grandmother radiated competence. I recently learned from my father’s cousin Herb that she delivered him. I don’t know whether a midwife or doctor was unavailable or whether this was something my Nana did on a semi-regular basis!

 

She was also diplomatic (perhaps a hangover from her days as a spy). When my Jewish father fell in love with my Christian mother, neither set of parents was thrilled. It wasn’t a time when a lot of intermarriage took place. Nevertheless, my grandmother welcomed my mother to the family and defended her against any criticism. She recognized a fellow smart, able woman when she saw one.

 

As I noted above, my grandmother didn’t do a lot in the kitchen, at least not by the time I met her. Perhaps her mother was the family cook. My father used to recall seeing a carp swimming in the bathtub in his childhood just before it was time to make gefilte fish. In my youth the gefilte fish came out of a jar.

 

(Although I’m a fan of fresh foods, I think in retrospect this was probably just as well; I would have yelled bloody murder at bath time if I’d seen a fish in the porcelain before me, no matter how thoroughly the tub had been scrubbed!)

 

I do remember two things that my grandmother made well and on a regular basis—pot roast and matzo ball soup. The matzo ball soup was particularly visible at Passover since the most prominent food on the Passover table is matzo, unleavened bread. When the Jews were finally allowed to leave Egypt in the Exodus story, they were in such a hurry that they baked their bread without letting it rise. In commemoration of this event their descendants eat no bread except matzo during Passover, which lasts for eight days. Matzo meal (ground matzo) is a staple of Passover cooking.

 

For the non-cognoscenti, matzo-ball soup is a bit like chicken-noodle soup. The balls resemble dumplings in chicken broth. The best matzo ball soup—the kind everyone’s grandmother (including mine) used to make—is created with homemade chicken or turkey stock. You may use a high-quality broth from the store, however.

 

The trick to this soup is not to make the matzo balls too big; if you do, they swell up and overwhelm your soup! You may of course jazz up the soup by adding chopped vegetables and/or a little ginger to the matzo balls. As a sodium freak I actually like to add a drop of soy sauce to my stock. My grandmother made basic matzo ball soup, however, so basic matzo ball soup this is.

 

When I make or taste it I am transported back to the home at which we visited my grandparents in Long Beach, New York. This tiny house always seemed to expand to accommodate the many relatives and friends who came to visit, particularly at Passover. My grandmother’s Seder table there was a symbol of her hospitality, of her generous personality, and of the ties that brought family and friends together at holidays. It was never without matzo ball soup.

 

For more information about Laura’s Grandma’s Recipes event, click here. Meanwhile, here is MY grandma’s recipe.

The Weisblat Family a few months before coming from Poland to the United States. From left to right: Sarah, Selma, Benny, Baby Abe (my dad!), and William (then known as Wolf)

The Weisblat Family a few months before coming from Poland to the United States. From left to right: Sarah, Selma, Benny, Baby Abe (my father!), and William (then known as Wolf)

 

 

Ingredients: 

2 eggs

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

2 tablespoons minced fresh dill

a small amount of finely chopped onion (optional)

2 tablespoons soda water

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or melted butter

3/4 teaspoon salt

freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup matzo meal

6 cups chicken stock

 

Instructions:

 

In a small bowl, beat the eggs.  With a balloon whisk, whisk in the parsley, dill, onion (if using), soda water, oil, salt, and pepper.  Then stir in the matzo meal.  Cover the mixture, and refrigerate it for at least an hour but not more than 6 hours. 

 

Oil your hands, and shape the dough into small balls (about 1/2 inch across). Pop the balls CAREFULLY into salted boiling water.

 

Boil the balls, covered, for 25 minutes over medium-low heat.  Do not peek at the balls while they are cooking. Drain the matzo balls.  Bring the chicken stock to a boil, covered, and put the balls in it.  Boil, covered, for at least 15 minutes.  Serves 4 to 5.
My Grandparents Later in Life (perhaps the 1940s?)

My Grandparents Later in Life (perhaps the 1940s?)

 

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Friendship Honey Cake

28 September 2008

          A note to readers: This blog has moved! Please visit the new IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS for new posts as well as copies of older ones (yes, even this post!).  See you around the stove……..

          Tinky

          One of the reasons that I love my mixed religious heritage (my mother is Christian, and my father was Jewish) is that I have extra holidays to celebrate.

          I particularly enjoy the two traditions’ far apart and very different new-year markers.

          The Christian New Year, just beyond the winter solstice, provides hope that spring will come, always a cheerful thought when it’s chilly outside. It gives us an excuse to light up the house on a dark winter night, to prepare something warm like onion soup or oysters, and to share wishes for the future with friends.

          The Jewish New Year carries with it more religious importance than its Christian counterpart. It also feels newer. It falls in autumn, when we traditionally embark on new enterprises—school, diets, blogs (well, my blog, at any rate). Stretching out over ten days, it gives people time to get in touch with friends and family, to mull over the good and bad parts of the past year, and to get ready for the future. It is both introspective and social, somber and joyful.

          Visiting my grandparents on Long Island for the High Holy Days was one of the highlights of my childhood. I loved sitting in the upper level of the Temple with my grandmother on Rosh Hashanah. The women kept track of what was going on downstairs, where the men (including my grandfather) went about the business of the shul.

My Grandfather, William "Wolf" Weisblat

My Grandfather, William (originally "Wolf") Weisblat (Courtesy of Bob Kraut)

The women also quietly gossiped and wished each other a happy new year, conducting their own social services to complement the religious ones below.

          My grandmother was one of the social leaders of her community. I don’t mean that she was elegant or a trendsetter. She represented something far more valuable than either of those characteristics–a person to whom her neighbors turned for advice, for a friendly ear, for her large brain and heart. My family tells me that I look like her, and that I’m bossy like her. (I prefer such terms are assertive and knowledgeable.) I’d like to think that I have a little of her skill with people as well.

Sarah Hiller Weisblat in Her Youth (Courtesy of Bob Kraut)

My Grandmother, Sarah Hiller Weisblat, in Her Youth (Courtesy of Bob Kraut)

          Whenever the Jewish New Year comes around, I like to remember my grandparents and their family with honey, a culinary highlight of this holiday. In the Jewish tradition, food is always more than just food. It’s a symbol of relationships and shared heritage. When we give our friends and relatives honey cake, we hope the gift brings them a sweet new year figuratively as well as literally.

 

William and Sarah's Children--Benny, Selma, and (my dad!) Abe (Courtesy of Bob Kraut)
William and Sarah’s Children–Benny, Selma, and (the baby, my dad!) Abe (Courtesy of Bob Kraut)
          The recipe below comes from Micheale Battles, a busy attorney in the D.C. area who still finds time for cooking, family, and religious traditions. Her extended Passover Seder is legendary in northern Virginia. Michaele’s honey cake is called friendship cake because it makes two cakes—one to keep, and one to share with a friend. Michaele ALWAYS puts in the nuts, but I like the cake without them as well so I made them optional in my version of her recipe. The cake itself is dense and flavorful and tastes even better with a little fruit. The coffee in the recipe cuts the honey and makes the flavor subtle.

 

 

Michaele’s Rosh Hashanah Friendship Honey Cake

Ingredients:

1 pound honey (1-1/3 cups)

1-1/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup shortening of your choice (I used butter since I don’t keep Kosher!)

5 eggs, separated

3 cups flour, sifted

1 tablespoon baking powder

1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon or to taste

1/2 cup black coffee

1 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in the coffee

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup chopped walnuts or toasted pecans (optional)

Directions:
          Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease 2 loaf pans.

Cream together the honey, sugar, and shortening. Add the egg yolks, and mix well.

Stir together the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon. Add them to the honey mixture, alternating with the coffee/baking soda solution. Add the vanilla and the nuts (if you’re using them).

Beat the egg whites just until they hold a peak, and fold them into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pans.

Bake for 1 hour (or a little under), or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out dry. Begin looking at the cakes after 40 minutes. If they look brown on the outside but are wet on the inside, turn the oven down to 300 degrees, and continue checking every 5 minutes until the toothpick test works.

Let the cakes cool in their pans for 20 minutes;then gently loosen them with a knife or a spatula, and slide them onto a rack to finish cooling. Makes 2 loaves.