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Filtering by Tag: Recipes

Anise Cookies • Anne James

Brett Rawson

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A note from curator Rozanne Gold: There are few more poignant daughter-and-father rituals than this evocative memory shared by Anne James, an Associate Professor of Voice and Movement in the Department of Theatre & Dance at California State University, Fullerton . Anne heard me on Heritage Radio on “A Taste of the Past,” a popular program hosted by culinary historian Linda Pelaccio.  Afterward, Anne wrote, “I was so moved by your project that I wondered how I would go about contributing a handwritten recipe that my grandmother passed on to me?”  That, of course, goes right to the essence of this column:  The reawakening of memory through the swerves and curves of a penned recipe.  And her writing is beautiful… “When he popped open the tin, the sweet, distinct aroma caught him off guard. My father looked at me, stunned. As he unfolded the tissue paper, he tossed back his…” We are grateful to have Anne’s original recipe and wonderful photos of the story’s compelling characters. 

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Anise Cookies by Anne James

My beloved grandmother, Florence “Flo” James, was a good old-fashioned English cook.  The knee-buckling aromatics of roasted potatoes, sage, and braised meat permeated every corner of my grandparent’s Yucaipa, California home.  The upholstery smelled like pastry.  Baking was her true love. 

Flo was stout, with a fluff of white, curly hair and flushed cheeks, and resembled Mrs. Claus.  Her cookie preparation for the holidays began as early as mid-October.  Clad in her favorite pink gingham apron, she’d happily hand-beat batch after batch.  By Christmas Day she would have plated over a dozen different delicacies: Ginger Snaps, Date Balls, Hazelnut Puffs, Walnut Stars, Coco Krispy Crunches, and Wedding Cakes (with her signature whole maraschino cherry tucked inside!).  Don’t even get me started on her Fruit Cake.

And then there were her signature Anise Cookies.  Flo baked these just for her son, George (my father).  These particular sweets were a maternal gesture that began in the mid-1930s and stretched into my Dad’s adulthood.  One whiff of their licorice scent transformed my father, an internationally renowned watercolorist and professor, into a giddy, little kid.  Holding up a precious nugget as if to expose its facets to the light, he would annually rhapsodize on the elements of the perfect Anise Cookie; the separation of the milky white meringue from the caramelized, caked bottom; the bouquet released with each bite; their miraculous transformation as they aged into a delectable granite-like shard.

Often at my Grandma’s hip, I would be mesmerized while she prepared English staples; steak and kidney pie, Cornish pasties, Yorkshire pudding.  She compiled her favorite recipes into a small, handwritten cookbook that she gifted to me, her only granddaughter.  Thankfully, all of her cookie recipes were included. Then thirteen, I cradled the micro-tome in my hands, awed that she had entrusted me with her culinary secrets.

Grandma passed away in the late 1980s.  Our family stumbled to fill the void left by our own Mrs. Claus.  A decade later, as a graduate student crafting inexpensive Christmas gifts, I remembered the cookbook.

Flipping through the pages, there it was:  her Anise Cookie recipe. The words, “Dad’s Favorite,” were carefully written in my teenage script at the top of the page.  Grandma’s swirly, red-penciled handwriting talked me through it.  Anise liquid was an exotic splurge.  Beat the eggs “until fluffy for 45 minutes.” She mixed these by hand? “Let stand overnight”— I opted to chill them instead.  That was my first handwritten contribution to her recipe.

Christmas morning, I presented my Dad with the tin.  Though eye-ing his toddling granddaughter, he accepted it and distractedly popped open the lid.  That sweet, distinctive scent escaped.  His attention snapped back to the metal box.

He looked at me stunned.

Unfolding the tissue paper, he tossed back his head and let out a soft sob.  Carefully, he picked up one of the creamy gems. He marveled at it for a moment and then took a bite. 

With a deep exhale, he slowly chewed and grinned.  The chaos of Christmas morning swirled on.  But, there he sat, the open tin perched on his lap, blissfully transported: A son unexpectedly basking in the spirit of his mother.  

I baked Anise Cookies for my Dad every Christmas after that.  Before the mayhem of presents, I’d find a quiet moment to slip him his stash.  It became one of our favorite father/daughter rituals.  He’d pop a cookie into his mouth and hum with delight.  We’d study that year’s batch, noting the subtle differences in texture, color, and fragrance. Then, he’d happily scurry away to hide his cookie booty.

I built on Grandma’s recipe, finessing her instructions with each pass; noting the impact of egg size, humidity, and parchment paper vs. aluminum foil.  I tracked them, year by year, on attached Post-It notes.  My last comment was dated December, 2014.

My Dad passed away in March of 2015.  Though his appetite was diminished from years of chemotherapy treatments, he managed to nibble a cookie a day that final holiday season.  It was a touchstone of a well-lived life; one that began simply enough, as a holiday treat baked by a young mother for her cherished first born and, unwittingly, setting into motion an unbroken streak that spanned over fifty years.

I didn't bake this last Christmas.  It is still too painful.  A well-meaning friend, however, knowing of our tradition, baked me a batch of my father’s beloved cookies.  I graciously accepted, but waited until I was alone to open them. 

One whiff of that licorice scent triggered a searing ache of grief.  Too soon.  Maybe next year.

Florence James’ Anise Cookies
My notes are in italics – A.J.

 2 eggs – cold
1 c. sugar
1 ½ cups of sifted flour (I used organic flour)
¼ t. cream of tartar (bought fresh every year – found made a significant difference)
½ t. Anise Extract (ordered yearly from Spice House in Chicago, IL)
(Sometimes I added a touch more. But not too much or else it makes the dough droopy)

Line cookie sheet with parchment paper. Beat eggs until fluffy. (Until really fluffy-at least 10 min or so). Add sugar gradually. Beat for 45 minutes.

Sift together flour, baking powder and cream of tartar. Fold into egg mixture. Drop by teaspoon onto a greased and floured cookie sheet (I used parchment paper). Dough will be sticky.

Let stand overnight – Do Not Cover (I chilled in my fridge overnight uncovered). Chill for at least 10-12 hours. 

Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes. A cake forms on top if made right. I’d say the top is crunchy with a cake bottom. I used to make a double batch that my Dad would ration through January. But this is my Grandma’s original recipe. These measurements make about a dozen


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Lemon Pound Cake • Kelly Spivey

Brett Rawson

A note from Curator Rozanne Gold: In this beautiful story about a memorable lemon cake (and Brunswick stew), Kelly shares her experience as both a pastry chef and as a devoted member of a tight-knit family.  Kelly’s love of food led her to drop out of graduate school where she was pursuing a Master of Fine Arts to study baking (a girl after my own heart, I also dropped out of grad school long ago to pursue a career in New York’s food world.  I later went back to get an MFA — who knows — so might Kelly). After ten years as pastry chef, Kelly now works at a specialty coffee roaster and coffee bar in Memphis, Tennessee, while she researches and writes about the history of baking and pastry in the south. Southern food ways are so in vogue that I await her gorgeous prose.

In the South, our relatives are our people.

My people come from North Carolina. They were farmers and owners of a general store. They lived in Northampton County, almost at the border of Virginia, where the pine trees were just as much a commodity as the peanuts and cotton. 

My grandmother, Elizabeth Braswell Spivey, was born in Northampton County in 1925.  She lived on a farm very far out in the country.

On the property was a long, rectangular cook-house and an adjoining family room with a fireplace, couches, and games. The cook-house had a large wood-fired brick oven that housed two large cast iron pots, and a cast iron, gas-fueled fryer that only was used for cornbread.    

Starting somewhere in the ‘30s or ‘40s, my family has held a Brunswick Stew every year in the Fall.  We would wake up early for an hour drive to my grandparents’ house, usually arriving around seven. The men hauled firewood to the brick oven and lit the fire. The women gathered in the cookhouse family room to peel pounds and pounds potatoes, and to empty huge cans of tomatoes into the cast iron pots.  

Generally, the men did all the stirring with wooden paddles the size of boat oars, but as a defiant teenage girl, I refused to peel potatoes and insisted on stirring instead. I would sit on top of the warm bricks, next to the cast iron pots, and stir for hours. After three hours it was time to “take up the stew” and fry the cornbread.

I loved how we all came together and took hands as we gathered in a large circle. The head of the family (my grandfather and after he passed, my father), would lead us in giving thanks and each joined hand would gently squeeze the other before letting go.

Finally, we could reap the rewards for our work. Plates were filled with Brunswick stew, pulled pork, slaw, and fried cornbread. Then they filled again with brownies, pig pickin' cake, lemon pound cake, thick slices of pie, and occasionally, ice cream.

We made between 200 - 250 quarts of stew each year, to be shared with family and friends. It was kept in the freezer and sustained us all winter.   

After my grandmother's death in 2013, I received boxes of her cookbooks and recipes jotted down on envelopes or advertisements for fertilizer. Some were just newspaper clippings. I received all of this during a time when, as a pastry chef, I was beginning to delve into my own history and re-create the desserts of my people. 

The earlier recipes are written in cursive so neat you can almost see the lines of the grade school primer it was practiced in. The later recipes become smaller, cramped, and more hurried, making them illegible to the untrained eye. Sometimes there were just notes denoting "good" recipes.

As I worked my way through the scraps of paper and fragile books, I put the ingredients together in my head, tasting every dessert on the sideboard at Christmas and every contribution from my aunts at the annual Brunswick stew.  But it was my grandmother’s lemon pound cake that was in evidence at every gathering.  

The first bite was so good — the tart-sugary glaze on the pillowy, yellow-tasting cake.  The second bite was to make sure that yes, you can taste yellow. To this day, it is the only cake my brother will eat.

My assumption that this cake was a made-from-scratch triumph was quickly shattered when I asked my mother for her copy of the recipe and saw that a box of Duncan Hines yellow cake mix and instant yellow pudding were two of the key ingredients.  I wanted to make the legendary cake for my brother's birthday.  This was years before my grandmother had passed and I was at the very beginning of my pastry career.  (I’m now 33). 

I tried to reverse-engineer it — omitting the instant pudding and cake mix (the horror!) and adding in real lemon zest and juice — but the results were never as good.  Some things are best left alone.  My grandmother understood, after all, that a cake is just a reason to gather together.

Lemon Pound Cake

Note:  Kelly says that she often uses a Kitchen Aid with the paddle attachment and beats the batter for 8 minutes.  Her grandmother did it by hand for 10.  Pour the batter into a large loaf pan that has been brushed with oil and lightly floured.  Although the handwritten recipe does not include instructions for icing, Kelly prepares a thin glaze made from 1 cup of sifted powdered sugar and 2 to 4 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice.    

INGREDIENTS: 

1 box Duncan Hines yellow cake mix
1 box instant lemon pudding
2/3 cups water
1/2 cup Mazola oil
4 eggs
Lemon flavoring to taste

DIRECTIONS:
Put in mixing bowl and beat for 10 min.
Preheat oven at 325. Cook for 1 hour
Does better if you do not open the oven door until the hour is up.
Makes 1 cake

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Kelly Spivey (left) and her grandmother, Elizabeth Braswell Spivey (above)

A Mother’s Day Reflection • Interview with Rozanne Gold by Allison Radecki

Brett Rawson

A note from curator Rozanne Gold: It is Sunday morning, Mother’s Day, 2017 and I am missing my mother terribly.  It is especially poignant, then, to be writing this curator’s note.  I am grateful to Allison Radecki for conducting this interview with me about my beloved “Ma.”  Always, “Ma.”  Marion Gold, my best friend, soul mate, guiding light.  She died in 2006 and never got to meet my daughter, Shayna, whom we adopted at age 11-1/2 less than a year after my mother died.  They would have loved each other deeply.  My mother’s love of food was infectious, but it was another level of nourishment — of a more spiritual, humanistic nature — that fed me best.  It is also meaningful to write this today (our 30th feature) on the first-year anniversary of “Handwritten Recipes."   

ALLISON RADECKI: Since the first handwritten recipe profiled in this column was one that you penned and framed as a gift to your own mother, Marion Gold, for Mother’s Day in 1980, it seems fitting that we feature one of her own recipes today.  Which handwritten recipe of your mother’s were you drawn to as you approached this holiday weekend?

ROZANNE GOLD: I have a recipe for my mother’s Garlic Broiled Shrimp — with a debatable “s” at the end.  She really never said “shrimps,” but she might have questioned herself while writing the title. Her handwriting is as elegant and finum (a Hungarian word for refined that she often used) as she was.

I was excited about the clarity and straightforward simplicity of this dish.  Although I never follow a recipe — ever — I followed this one with great results.  Michael (my husband) and I ate the whole thing standing up at the counter and were almost giddy from its clean, pure flavors, its stunning plainness.  The second time I made it, I embellished a bit — a bit of tarragon and a splash of wine — and ruined it. 

That day, with great intention, I summoned her up so that I could see her standing in her kitchen in Queens.  There was a smile at the edge of her lips, her shoulders gently sloping, like the curve of her “m” in minced.  She minced fresh garlic with her small, favorite knife that was never sharp enough.  Would she peel and de-vein the shrimp? I imagine her long piano fingers delicately removing the black vein along the curve of each shrimp’s back.  And there was all that curly parsley, meant to be finely chopped.  I mean, curly parsley!  When was the last time I bought curly parsley?  This was a dish for company meant to be served with rice.  A box of Carolina Rice was as iconic to me as a Warhol soup can. 

RADECKI: Where did your Mom keep her recipes?  And where do you now keep hers?  

GOLD: My mother kept her recipes in a blue kitchen binder decorated with simple and colorful illustrations of kitchen utensils and ingredients. It has large yellow envelopes as dividers in which you could stuff too many recipe cards.  After she died, I found a stash of additional recipes in an old-fashioned tin, filled with blue-lined index cards all in her graceful handwriting festooned with her beautiful swoops and swishes: chicken cutlets, fresh string beans, sour cream coffee cake.  The binder and tin now nestle together in the drawer of my pine kitchen table.  

RADECKI: Did your mom like to cook?  Did she cook often?  What do you remember about her cooking?

GOLD: Every night.  She cooked every night and made the things we loved.  Cabbage and noodles, another dish of stunning simplicity, was my comfort food growing up. Mornings were made special with her apricot-filled ultra-thin crepes called palascintas; meatloaf was always in the shape of a heart.  

My mother also made something she called “Tunk-a-lee,” soft scrambled eggs with tomato, pepper, and onion — very Hungarian flavors — but every culture seems to have a version.  Another dish I loved was a stew of hot dogs, cut on the bias, with potatoes and onions in a ketchup-y broth.   And pot roast.  She made the most fabulous pot roast with so many onions, a bay leaf, and splash of dry vermouth.  She made it all the time and later revealed that she hated pot roast. 

My mother loved to entertain.  She’d take white bread, cut the crusts off, and roll it paper-thin with a rolling pin — so thin, it became like pastry.  She’d then cover each slice with creamy blue cheese spread and put a fat canned asparagus on it.  They would get rolled up tight, brushed with melted butter, and baked.  Oh, how many of these I used to eat before company came! Lethal.

RADECKI: How would you describe your relationship with your mother?

GOLD: Ours was an amazing love story.  It would be impossible to describe all the joys in our life together, but there was lots of sadness and loss, turmoil and drama, too.  But there was also lots of happiness that we shared in big and small ways. I liked the small ways best.  Laughing until we cried, playing scrabble; cooking, doing things to please or surprise each other, or just talking ten times a day on the phone.  There were trips and travels and innumerable nights of splendor at The Rainbow Room and Windows on the World.  There were victories and milestones to celebrate. And I got a chance to write about her in many of my books and magazine articles, too.  She was modest and never believed in "tooting her own horn,” and told me never to toot my own.  But, nothing came close just to being together. 

RADECKI: You have often said that your mother was “More Zsa Zsa than Julia.”  Can you paint a picture of the mom you see in your mind’s eye? 

GOLD: My mother was a seeker of wisdom and beauty.  She was such a beautiful woman.  She loved people. She loved children.  It always felt like she was doing something special, wanting to please.

She grew up in Florida in a tiny town called Belle Glade, near Pahokee.  It was just her, her mom, and her dad.  They were poor, but she didn’t know it.  She grew up happy.  She was always a tall drink of water, though her bosomy mother was only four foot ten. 

Mom escaped to the University of Miami, back when it was just one building.  Her parents died in her early thirties within six weeks of each other.  My mother told me that when her mother died, she felt as though her heart had broken. She carried a lot of sadness.  There were deep feelings.   

She was a teacher, a hospital volunteer and a medical assistant, but I think she wanted to be an actress.  She could be the most glamorous person; a bit like Zsa Zsa.

On her 80th birthday, three weeks before she died, it took her quite a while to get ready.  We weren’t going anywhere but she wanted to make it a special occasion.  She was so weak but spent hours in her bedroom getting ready.   When she finally came out, there were high heels, a mink jacket, and sequined glasses.  She could hardly breathe, but she dressed up like a movie star.  This is how she wanted us to remember her.

RADECKI:  You and I often talk about how recipes — especially handwritten ones — ignite connections.  In the spirit of sparking a memory or two, let’s play a quick game.  Tell me the first thing that comes to mind about your mother when I say:

Scent:  Onions and her own sweet perfume.  We each had our own scent.  I wore Rive Gauche.  She was a sexy, sensual woman. 

Sight: It’s summertime, and she’s in the backyard drinking an iced cold Heineken.  It’s so out of character, but that’s what I see.   

Sayings: "Kickups." If I acted out, she would say, "kickups." As in, "Watch out. You’re about to head into trouble."

Right before she died my mother said the most amazing things.  Look deep inside your heart and you will find the answer.  Have the courage of your convictions, even if you are wrong.  Have more faith in life.  Have fun!  And love and care will make everything all right.  That one is most important. I still keep them with me: in my wallet, handwritten down.

RADECKI:  When, do you think, was your mom proudest of you?

GOLD: One night, we had a real New York City evening planned.  She came to meet me in the city to hear Michael Feinstein at the Regency.  She came in by taxi from Queens.  It was a real moment, to see us together in that way, dressed to the nines.  We became elegant and adult together.  Yet it was a moment of exquisite recognition of our separateness.  

RADECKI: When were you proudest of your mom?

GOLD: Although we could get so angry with one another, there was never a time I was not proud of her.  That may be my deepest connection to her.  I always felt so proud of her.

RADECKIYou’ve credited your mother for recognizing that you had a future in food, and urging you to pursue that passion, even at a time when women were not prominent in professional kitchens.  How did she see your path and encourage you to do what you loved?

GOLD: When I was in college at Tufts, I got a phone call from my mom.  She had just heard an interview with the Hungarian restaurateur George Lang.  That was the very first time I heard the idea of a restaurant consultant.  I was a dual major in psych and education, but the food, she knew.  I mean, she let me become a bartender at age sixteen, when she knew it wasn’t legal.

My mother was the one to see that I was spending more time cooking in the kitchen than working on my Masters degree.  I dropped out of graduate school and became the first chef to New York Mayor Ed Koch when I was twenty-three. She enjoyed visiting me at Gracie Mansion, but felt bad about the grueling hours.

Again, always wanting to please. There was a restaurant, Villa Secondo, in Queens where my parents would always go.  But, one day my mother called me to say, “Rozanne!  Secondo, it’s gotten so much better!”  Years later, I found out who the new chef was.  It was Lidia Bastianich.  She knew!  My Mom just knew.  She had that food sense.

RADECKI: In 2009, a few years after your mother’s death, you bought and saved over six thousand cookbooks from the library of Gourmet Magazine and donated them to the N.Y.U. Fales Library in your mother’s name.  What does it mean to you to see her name Marion Gold on the nameplate of every book in that Gourmet collection?

GOLD: It felt so full circle…so right.

Garlic Broiled Shrimp

Note:  You can buy large cleaned, deveined shrimp.  Reduce cooking time depending on size of shrimp.  Do not overcook. 

INGREDIENTS:

Two lbs. raw shrimps
½ cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tsp. salt
½ cup chopped parsley
Lemon wedges

DIRECTIONS:

Arrange shrimps in shallow baking pan.  Sprinkle with olive oil, garlic, salt, and half of parsley.

Broil about 4 inches from source of heat for 5 to 7 minutes on each side – Sprinkle with remaining parsley and serve with lemon wedges. 

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To see the rest of Rozanne Gold's "Handwritten Recipes," click here.

Pasta alla Norma • Allison Radecki

Brett Rawson

A Note from Curator Rozanne Gold: This dreamy essay comes from food writer and fabulous home cook, Allison Radecki, who describes her recent trip to Sicily in such a way that we experience an intimacy with her.  Through her eyes we taste the pleasures of food and friendship, and get an up-close view of one of the world’s largest religious processions, La Festa di Sant’Agata, celebrated annually in Catania (Sicily’s second largest city) from Feb. 3rd-5th with the heart and soul of an entire community.  Sant’Agata, the city’s patron saint, is also lovingly known as “La Santuzza” — the little saint — in the local Catanese dialect.  Allison’s beloved friend, Mario, whose family home is in the Canalicchio neighborhood, teaches cooking at Catania’s“Piazza dei Mestieri,” preparing high school students to enter the restaurant world.  They met while attending The University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy’s Piedmont region, years ago.  Pasta alla Norma, Sicily’s quintessential dish is something Mario and Allison make every time they are together — a ritual they share whether in New Jersey or in Italy.  I, too, remember eating Pasta alla Norma every day when my husband and I travelled to Sicily — an island of volcanic pleasures.  Grazie mille to Allison for her beautiful handwritten recipe, and for the joy that accompanies it.  

BY ALLISON RADECKI

All you needed to see were the words “Flash sale to Europe” in your e-mail inbox, and you started to daydream. In a swirl of logistics and calculations you manage to free up a few days of freedom and click on two words that always forecast adventure:  BUY TICKET.  

And you’re off.  

The plane goes up and down and up and down again until you land at Catania-Fontanarossa Airport.  And there he is, your brother from another mother, who just happened to be born in the shadow of Europe’s largest volcano, beside the sea.  You stare at each other, in disbelief; with excitement; with love. After all, you have just made the seemingly impossible possible (at this particular moment in your life) and have three of the world’s greatest gifts before you: Friendship.  Time.  Sicilian food.  

You are really here, on this island kicked into the Mediterranean by the toe of Italy’s boot.  Mario’s car winds through the port, past freighters and petrol tanks. Soon, you are offered a taste of this new place, at a kiosk that overlooks a bobbing fleet of docked boats.  With a press, a squirt, and a stir, you sip your first glass of “selz, limone e sale.” It tickles your lips and tastes like the marriage of a lemon grove and the salt water before you.      

At home in New Jersey, you wrapped your neck in a heavy scarf and scattered salt on your steps to stop from sliding on the ice.  But here, the sun is strong.   You sit and sip espresso together in the shadow of stone buildings as Mario attempts to explain what you are about to experience.  You contemplate what this street will look like for the next three days as the city stops to honors its patron saint, whose bones will be pulled on a silver carriage — up hills and down thoroughfares — drawn by an endless ribbon of white-clad devotees, as it happens every year.  That very night, you twirl your fork in a bowl of spaghetti, cooked al dente, in an attempt to catch every creamy bit of sea urchin that remains in your bowl.  

The next day is electric.  Brass bands chase towering candelabras through crowds.  Velvet curtains hang from high balconies. The saint’s face is visible everywhere, on street corner magnet stands and balloons that fly overhead.  Amidst the call of trumpets and the shouts of candle sellers, you duck into a crowded bar and are handed “la raviola,” fried half-moons filled with sweetened ricotta.  Powdered sugar snows down on your shirt and sleeves and you laugh.  

The following morning begins at 4 a.m. with a long walk to the Piazza Duomo (parking during the Festa di Sant’Agata is — as you can imagine — a holy mess).  And though the city is still in darkness, the streets are alive with footsteps, voices, and the whirr of the milk frothing for cappuccinos to be sipped by men and women dressed in white.   At the mass at dawn, handkerchiefs wave and a city sings out to welcome its protector.  That afternoon, you watch from a high perch, surrounded by Mario’s family and friends — Giogió, Saro, Claudia, Daniele, Daria — and nibble fat, golden arrancini, as the saint sails past on the street below.  

That night, at his family table, Mario, an exemplary teacher, cooks “La Norma," the pasta dish of his city, named after the operatic masterpiece of Bellini, another jewel in Catania’s crown.  And, even though he regrets that it is not eggplant season, (“when they will be sweeter and more delicious”) you try to memorize the way in which the slices are bathed in salty water to release their bitterness, and how he unites the pasta, tomato sauce, basil, fried eggplant and shavings of ricotta salata, so that the result seems to echo Mt. Etna, which smokes in the distance.  

After a night where massive candles, like tree trunks, line the sidewalks of the city, the saint says her final farewell.  That is, until next year, when it will all begin again.  And soon, with a final coffee and a bear hug of an embrace, you board the plane to return home.  

Domani.  You wake up to a snowstorm which cancels work and offers you an unexpected day of rest.  You are thankful.  And, though you can hear the scrape of shovels on sidewalks as you slowly acclimate to the new time and your old life, you dream of eggplants and basil and start to think about dinner.

PASTA ALLA NORMA
Adapted from a recipe by J. Kenji López Alt

Note:  The ricotta salata sold in the USA is not aged anywhere enough for the true flavor of this dish. Seek out an imported ricotta salata from Italy at a specialty market or combine equal parts sheep’s milk feta with grated Pecorino Romano cheese. 

INGREDIENTS

• Extra-virgin olive oil, for frying and more for drizzling
• 2-3 small Italian or Japanese eggplants, the skins roughly peeled, tops and bottoms trimmed, cut lengthwise into ½ inch thick slices
• Kosher salt
• 3 medium cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly crushed with the side of a large knife
• 1 (25 oz.) jar passata (tomato puree)
• 1 pound dry rigatoni or penne rigate
• A large handful of fresh basil leaves (for the sauce), as well as another handful of roughly torn large leaves for garnishing.
• Aged ricotta salata, finely grated

DIRECTIONS

1. Place eggplant slices in a large bowl and fill with cold water.  Add enough salt to the water and swirl with your hands so that the water tastes like the sea.  Allow the eggplant to soak in the salted water for half and hour.  This will both flavor the slices and allow the eggplant’s bitter flavors to drain out into the salted water.  Drain the slices and pat dry with paper towels.

2. Heat a thumb’s thickness of olive oil in a 12-inch non-stick or cast iron skillet over medium heat until shimmering.  Add as much eggplant as fits in a single layer without overlapping.  Cook until the eggplant is browned on both sides (but not dark brown or   burnt).  Transfer eggplant to a plate and set aside. Repeat with remaining eggplant, adding olive oil as necessary, until all eggplant is browned.

3. Heat remaining oil until it shimmers. Add garlic cloves to the oil and cook, until fragrant, but not browned.  Remove cloves from the oil and discard. 

4. Add the tomato puree to the oil and cook, stirring constantly until evenly incorporated. Bring to a boil, and add a large handful of basil (stems and all) to cook into the sauce.

5. Reduce to a bare simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is thickened into a sauce-like consistency, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt.  When no one is looking, add a tsp. of sugar to add sweetness, if necessary.  Remove the cooked basil from the sauce and discard.

6. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the ‘al dente’ package directions. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of cooking liquid. Return pasta to the pot.

7. Add the sauce to pasta and toss to coat, adding reserved pasta water if necessary to thin sauce to desired consistency. Add eggplant slices and toss to combine.

8. Serve pasta immediately, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and garnished with grated ricotta salata and a handful of torn basil leaves.   Serves 6

9. Think of Sicily.

Pumpkin Fritters • Jonathan Paul Katz

Brett Rawson

A note from curator Rozanne Gold: Anna Freiman, native of Lithuania, speaker of nine languages, and devotee of Russian literature, herself sounds like an elegant character in a Dostoevsky novel. After surviving the horrors of the Holocaust, she joined her older brothers in South Africa, and later emigrated to Israel. Her grandson Jonathan, a writer (and creator of a Jewish historical cooking blog), found Annushka’s recipe for pumpkin fritters in a red binder his mother has kept for thirty years. With great affection he says, “As a teacher, my grandmother’s handwriting in both Latin and Hebrew scripts was crisp and exact; the fluidity of the cursive was unmistakably correct and undoubtedly all her own.” Jonathan, whose roots spread from South Africa, Israel, Chicago and New York, expresses his cooking “as deeply Jewish and totally unboxed” — just like his exceptional grandmother. You can enjoy more of his writing and extensive research at www.flavorsofdiaspora.com

BY JONATHAN PAUL KATZ

Every fall and winter, I see advertisements and signboards for pumpkin pie, pumpkin spice lattés, pumpkin doughnuts — but none for the pumpkin dessert of my childhood: Pumpkin fritters — a popular dish from my native South Africa. This recipe, lovingly written by my late grandmother Anna “Annushka” Freiman (née Smit), is at the heart of this story.

Annushka died in 1999, but her legacy lives on in the tales about her and in the recipes she left behind. In the 1980s, she typed out a cookbook for the family — including her famous dill soup, fish curry, and the meat stews she learned to make in South Africa. In addition, she blessed everyone dear to her with dozens of handwritten recipes. Those given to my mother on her visits to Annushka in Israel, were gathered in a treasured red binder — one that would forever sit alongside the typed recipe book. These tastes of my childhood became a priceless link to the life of an extraordinary woman.

My grandmother was born in Panevezys, Lithuania in 1917, in the famous yeshiva town known in Yiddish as Ponevezh. She was one of nine children in a well-off family who made their living as bottlers of Pilsner beer. Like many well-educated Lithuanian Jews, she grew up in a multilingual environment — High German, Hebrew, Lithuanian, and Russian were spoken at school, while Yiddish was spoken at home. And she learned English and Polish at some point along the way. Annushka survived the Holocaust in the Kaunas Ghetto and Bergen-Belsen, but tragically lost her first daughter, her first husband, and most of her siblings. After the war, she moved to South Africa, remarried and had three children, including my mother. In the mid-1960s, she moved to Israel and taught Hebrew.

Soon enough, Annushka became well-known for her prowess in the kitchen. The dishes she made were hardly traditional — she had a love for Middle Eastern cuisine and the Afrikaner and Indian specialties she learned in South Africa. Other recipes harkened back to her roots: Gefilte fish — peppery, in the Lithuanian tradition — or her aromatic dill soup.

She brought many recipes from Lithuania, but mostly enjoyed the black rye bread and farmer’s cheese that were the mainstays of the Lithuanian Jewish diet for centuries. I am certain that the tastes of her childhood carried over into her cooking — hence her pumpkin fritters are less sweet than many of their counterparts among other South African communities. They are also far more elegant — befitting a literary woman who could read, write, and speak nine languages and was known for her elegant demeanor. (As a young woman, she was also known as “Annushka di Sheine,” Annushka the Beautiful, for her elegance and beauty.).

My grandmother spoke in allusions with frequent references to Dostoyevsky. Ten hours of her mellifluous words are available at the Yale University Library as proof. Her descriptions of the detritus of everyday life recalled the great works of Yiddish and Russian literature, imbued with a folk wisdom all her own. But her recipes begged for a bit of wisdom of one’s own — be it the dollop of sour cream to add to the dill soup, or ingredients, or measurements, which had been omitted or simply “forgotten.”

My grandmother died when I was a child, but I distinctly remember making her pumpkin fritters with my mother in our family’s cramped New York City kitchen. (I “helped” by putting things into the bowl). My mother was always looking at the recipe on the counter as she mixed the batter, and the smoke from the cooking oil filled the apartment with a sweetly burnished smell that I still associate with autumn. On one very rainy day, I remember how the smoke looked like an extension of the cloud outside the window.

When I was 20, I spent a few months in South Africa doing archival research in winter which, in South Africa, takes place June through August. While there, I had the chance to eat pampoenkoekies – Afrikaner-style pumpkin fritters — at a coffee shop in the Cape Town neighborhood of Rondebosch. And though they did not taste exactly the same as the dish of my youth — they were a good deal sweeter, with a touch of clove — the bite pulled me into a Proustian reverie.

Poignantly, I, too, have just discovered that Annushka had “forgotten” an ingredient — and I struggled to make the recipe as written, watching the fritters disintegrate before my eyes. My mother advised that my grandmother always included flour in the mixture, but alas, there was none in the recipe. I marveled to find this omission and Annushka immediately came to life. (Handwriting is so often indicative of what is not written.) And as I slowly stirred the flour into the bowl, I felt a small nudge, and heard her whisper “Enjoy in good health.”

The recipe, as written in Annushka’s teacher’s hand, with my additions in parentheses.

Pumpkin Fritters • Your loving “Sheine”

Ingredients:

2 pounds raw pumpkin
[1-1/2 cups sifted flour]
3 eggs
1 heaped tablespoon sugar
½ level teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla essence [author note: vanilla extract]
1 level teaspoon cinnamon
2 [level teaspoons] baking powder

Directions:

Peel and slice pumpkin. Cook slowly in very little water till soft (about 20 minutes). Strain off water and mash up very well into a pulp. Cool it completely.

When cool, add slightly beaten eggs (just with a fork) and then add the balance of the ingredients, but the baking powder is added last.

Drop tablespoonful[s] into shallow oil (not too hot, as they burn quickly). Fry till golden brown on both sides. Makes 40-50 fritters.

Note: The fritters make a delicious dessert and can be served with cinnamon and sugar. They keep well in the fridge for quite a few days – if not eaten up immediately.
Bete’avon ulabri’ut! [Bon appétit and to your health!]

Mother's Day Handwritten Recipe • Arthur Schwartz’s Marble Meatloaf

Brett Rawson

Note from curator Rozanne Gold:  This priceless story, so perfect for Mother’s Day, is personal and poignant.  It comes from New York’s beloved Food Maven, Arthur Schwartz who happens to be one of my closest friends. We met each other in 1978 in the kitchen of Gracie Mansion, when I was the chef for Mayor Ed Koch and Arthur was the restaurant critic for the New York Daily News. Arthur went on become a legendary food writer and radio personality, but also a well-respected cooking teacher and “walking encyclopedia” of all things Italian, Jewish, and New York. His is a rich and riveting portfolio of knowledge and experience.  You can learn more about Arthur from his many cookbooks, including Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited.  Many thanks to Arthur for his “Mother’s Day” essay – a treatise on food and memory for sure, but also one, quite fittingly, about the art of handwriting.  

Recipes My Mother and Grandmother Wrote by Arthur Schwartz

Elsie was a great and avid cook. My mother, Sydell, her daughter, was a good cook, but she never had the enthusiasm for cooking that Elsie had. It’s obvious from her recipes, however, that she at least wanted to continue family food traditions, which she did, more or less, after my grandmother died. Most of her recipes in that folder, written in my mother’s very neat, even beautiful, penmanship, are from my grandmother’s repertoire. I can tell which were written by Elsie herself because my grandmother’s handwriting was sloppier than my mother’s, though derived from the same New York City standard as my mother’s, and, in fact, my own handwriting, which is somewhere between the two in clarity.

We all learned the same style of penmanship in New York City schools. Called The Palmer Method, it was taught in New York from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century (as far as I can tell) until relatively recently, when cursive writing ceased to be taught altogether. When we all grew up, however, examples of The Palmer Method in which we were mercilessly drilled, was exemplified over every elementary-school blackboard in an alphabet printed on oak tag. For the longest time, I have been looking for a cache of recipes in a manila folder, mostly for Passover, handwritten by my grandmother and mother. They were on odd slips of paper, on the backs of envelopes (my grandmother’s favorite “note” paper, it seems), or scribed onto pages torn from notebooks. Some are mere ingredient lists, some have full or sketchy directions. But for the life of me, for years I couldn’t find them until just a few weeks ago.

Spring cleaning my office, I came across them in time to motivate me to make one of my family’s favorite Pesach dishes for our Seder. It is sweet potato and prune tzimmes, a sweet and sour casserole flavored with a goodly amount of flanken, which, to the Yiddish cook, is short ribs cut across the bone instead of between the bones. It’s one of the few recipes of my maternal grandmother, Elsie Binder Sonkin, that I have not published during the 47 years I have been a food writer and editor, and I was happy to see it outlined in my mother’s neat cursive. It was delicious, by the way.

The most thrilling recipe I found in that folder, however, was not any of my grandmother’s, most of which I have already published in books, newspaper columns and magazine articles, but my own. It is for a meatloaf I created about 30-something years ago (before I would have put it on my computer) for the birthday of my long-time partner and now legal spouse, Bob Harned. Bob has fond memories of this meatloaf recipe, which was published in a weekly column called “Sundays in the Kitchen with Arthur” that I was writing for the New York Daily News Sunday magazine. I called it Marble Meatloaf, because it is streaked with spinach. Bob has asked me to make it again from time to time, but I’d lost track of the exact recipe. I am sure the magazine it appeared in is packed in one of the many archival boxes in our storage locker, but I’ve never gotten the energy to pursue the search.

Sydell’s handwritten version to the rescue, a gift from my mother, who died 26 years ago, on Mother’s Day. I think I have to make it this weekend.

Arthur Schwartz’s Marble Meatloaf

Ingredients

1 medium onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons butter or oil
1-1/2 lbs. ground chuck
½ cup fine dry bread crumbs
½ cup milk or water
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg
3 to 4 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
10-ounce package chopped spinach, thawed
Serves 4

Directions

  1. In a small skillet, sauté onion in butter until golden, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, combine bread crumbs and milk; let stand so crumbs absorb milk, then, with a fork, beat in the egg. 
  2. Take the chopped spinach in small handfuls and squeeze out excess moisture. 
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, the sautéed onion, the bread-crumb mixture, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and grated cheese. As you add the ingredients, distribute them around the surface of the meat, don't just plop them in. 
  4. With your hands, blend everything together until mixed well. Add the spinach and mix again, just until all the ingredients seem equally distributed. Don't overmix or knead the meat. 
  5. Turn the meat mixture into a rectangular baking dish and pat into a rye-bread shaped loaf about 4 inches across at the bottom and tapered towards the ends. Bake in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for 50 to 60 minutes, depending on doneness desired. Let rest  5 minutes before serving. Serve hot or at room temperature.  

Braised Short Ribs with Fennel, Carrots, and Orange • William Poole

Brett Rawson

Note from curator Rozanne Gold: I was thrilled to get an email from Mr. William Poole, a stranger to me who has been enjoying reading Handwritten Recipes. Mr. Poole is a professional chef who specializes in pastry and confectionery and has extensive knowledge and experience working all over the world, including Slovenia. Naturally, I expected a nice recipe for strudel or some European baked good, but what I got instead was a fabulous recipe for short ribs perfumed with fennel, carrots, and orange. Only one teaspoon of sugar in sight. Bravo to Mr. Poole, who not only managed to devise such a lusty main course, but did so in his hotel room one night. And thanks to Allison Radecki for making the recipe and saving some for me. This handwritten recipe is an homage to William’s grandparents who inspired him to live life full tilt.

BY WILLIAM POOLE  

I am from Eastern Nebraska, growing up in Omaha and moving to Phoenix in my early teens. My families are largely from Eastern Europe, the Bohemia region of what we now know as the Czech Republic, and settled in Nebraska in the late 19th century. 

Afternoons after school, I would be glued to the television, watching the Great Chef's Series, The Frugal Gourmet and, of course, Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. They all influenced me in developing my cooking style, and to understand that the world, in a culinary sense, is a pretty large place. 

I am a professional cook, specializing in pastry and confectionery. My career has taken me all over the states (restaurants, hotels, even a private luxury train) and to Europe, where I worked for a large catering company in Slovenia. I have kept many notebooks over the years that contain recipes, notes, techniques, and even drawings of the things that influence me, or inspire me to cook. 

The recipe I am sharing comes from my latest notebook, Jokati z Babico (shedding tears with Grandmother). It is an homage to my biggest inspirations, my grandparents, Claire and William Pycha. The phrase Jokati z Babico is a term that represents the passing on of traditions, good ones that make you remember people who have passed on before you, sharing stories, eyes filled with joyful and melancholy tears.  

My grandparents taught me to be adventurous in all things. My grandmother Pycha, all smiles and billowy (like a character in a Truman Capote novel), was always one to point out what was good to use in the yard for cooking; she would show me where the wild chives grew behind the garage, the spearmint below the low porch off the kitchen, and how to dry the picked bundles to make tea.  She taught me how long to boil the potatoes we pulled earlier from the garden and how much butter, dill seed, salt and parsley to use when preparing them. 

My grandfather, in addition to his great baking skills (kolache, dinner rolls and cinnamon buns were his best) had a strong talent in the arts.  He painted in oils, in addition to painting yearly pisanki (colored Easter eggs with traditional or pastoral vignettes). I think of him (and thank him often) whenever I’m drawing out a new confection design, or composing a plate for a menu. 

This handwritten recipe resulted from my recent travels when I learned that you can make something extraordinary with limited resources. 

My partner of twenty-eight years had accepted a job that relocated us to the East Coast, but required nearly 100% travel. The neat part about this was that his company would fly me to his destination/base as needed for as long as I needed. This was great, as I was taking some time off while considering a location and menu for my new chocolate and confectionery company. 

I found myself in Atlanta, Georgia, for most of 2014, in a residence hotel, the Hilton Midtown, which offered a refrigerator, basic cooking utensils, pans, a coffee maker, and a two- burner electric stove top, which to me, is a perfect challenge. This setup allowed me to cook nearly every night, using fresh ingredients, exploring farmer's markets and regional food shops so I could create great meals. A few times, seeing me carrying bags of fresh food back to my room, the hotel maids would ask what I would be making that day, and started asking me cooking questions. I guess they were intrigued by the aromas wafting into the hallway.

I created this recipe in October of 2014. It was raining the day I stepped out to make groceries (my partner is a New Orleans native, hence the regional expression...). It was balmy, but I knew that it would get colder later, and wanted to make something that was comforting and perfect for the evening ahead. At the market, a few blocks away, I found all the ingredients I needed;    meaty short ribs, some baby carrots, a head of fennel, a can of low-sodium beef broth, and an orange. Back at the hotel, I had on hand a few cloves of garlic, onion, and some left over coffee. I borrowed a little apple cider vinegar and flour from the hotel kitchen. 

This recipe always reminds me of my grandparents, a hearty and flavorful combination of aromas and textures, and a one-pot technique which is frugality at its best. The flavors of the fennel, carrot, and onion, with the delicate orange and coffee, are all scents that remind me of time at my grandparents’ house in Omaha, and a way of keeping their memory with me wherever I go. 

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Braised Short Ribs with Fennel, Carrot and Orange

This recipe is can feed four easily, or two people for a few days

4-6 beef short ribs**  
2 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
1⁄2 large onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, smashed and coarsely chopped
1 large fennel bulb, cored and sliced thinly
1 bag baby carrots, rinsed
1 orange, juiced (about ¼ cup) 
1-1/2 cups low-sodium beef broth  
¼ to ½ cup of brewed coffee
¼ cup apple cider vinegar

  1. Heat oil in a deep, lidded pot, over medium high heat until it shimmers.  
  2. Without crowding, add the short ribs, browning on all sides; remove to a plate. 
  3. Add a touch more oil if needed, and sauté the vegetables until they begin to take color, adding the garlic last.
  4. Add the stock, vinegar, coffee and orange juice and bring to a boil. Nest the ribs into the liquid and vegetables, reduce the heat to low and cover for two hours until the meat is tender.  Remove short ribs and vegetables to a platter.  Boil juices in pan until thick and syrupy and pour over meat.   

** dusted in a mixture “dry rub” of salt, pepper, flour and a little sugar (the only sugar I had on hand were there sugar packs in the hotel room, which reminded me of my grandparents again, as my grandmother used to sneak a pack or two home from the restaurant every time we went, as a memento). A dry rub is a personal choice for “how much”, but I generally use 1 cup flour, with 2 teaspoons each salt and pepper, and 1 teaspoon sugar).

 

Connie Love’s Irish Soda Bread • Allison Radecki

Brett Rawson

Note from curator Rozanne Gold: I adore Irish Soda Bread and don’t eat it often enough.  That will certainly change now that I have this fabulous recipe from Connie Love.  Not only is her version filled with love and lore, but is lovingly written by Allison Radecki, who interviewed Connie for this story.  It’s “Handwritten” doing what it does best. The recipe is written in Connie’s hand on thin, yellowed paper which she keeps protected, slipped into a small plastic sleeve. It is marked with lines and revisions. Many thanks to Connie, Allison, and her mother, Joanna.   

Connie Love's Irish Soda Break by Allison Radecki

There are some homes where everything you see has a story attached to it; a place where life is lived in the company of objects that keep the memories of loved ones alive and where the spirit of a bygone era is still gloriously vibrant.   

Such is the home of Connie Love, a close family friend with whom I have been lucky enough to share friendship, much kindness, and lots of laughter in both easy days and tough times over the years. A lover of recipes and a wonderful cook, Connie is the type of friend who will call you to say that there is an extra jar of homemade minestrone with your name on it, waiting for you on her front stoop. “Just remember to stop by and pick it up.”  

My mother, Joanna, worked alongside Connie for many years as a realtor in Montclair, New Jersey, and benefited from many such surprises that emerged from Connie’s generous kitchen. Since Connie’s retirement, the two of them still manage to share adventures, whether it is an impromptu movie night or a game of Pickleball, the fantastically named hybrid of tennis and ping-pong, at the local YMCA.

In celebration of various holidays, Connie’s baked goods would appear in our home and soon be reduced to a plate of crumbs. This is how I first encountered her Irish soda bread, which often accompanied the first days of Spring and the Saint Patrick’s day season.

One afternoon this March, my mother and I sat down in Connie’s meticulous kitchen to talk about her soda bread recipe and found ourselves engaged in a whirlwind of memories, photographs, and stories. The recipe for her soda bread came from her mother, Amelia Malanga Ianucci (known as Minnie).  Minnie, one of 14 children, was born in Newark, NJ, in 1895. She received this recipe as 17-year old bride from Mrs. Pollack, an Irish neighbor whose apartment shared a door to the same fire escape in a Newark tenement building. The recipe was said to be ‘the poor man’s soda bread’ since it did not use eggs or butter.

“My mother and Mrs. Pollack socialized on the balcony. Their apartments were side-by-side.  The basement was filled with crocks with pickles and peppers. They kept the coal in the basements for the coal stoves.” Connie (Columbia Ianucci) and her twin sister, Betty (Elizabeth) were born in the midst of The Great Depression on Clifton Avenue in Newark, not far from The Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. “No one had a cookbook. No one had measurements. They just knew,” said Connie. “My mother knew the dough for knots.  She knew the sweet crusts for Easter pies.  My sister said, ‘we didn’t make an effort to know, so we didn’t know.’” Because of this, Connie, herself a young bride, had her mother dictate her soda bread process as she committed the steps to paper. Connie figures that she wrote the recipe down in the 1950s when she was already married and running her own house.  

“The tenements smelled, not of garlic and food, but of bleach. The women would bleach the wooden floors until they were almost white.” Bleach was delivered to the women in the tenements by the bleach salesman. “These women didn’t have cars. They didn’t go to the stores.”  She remembers the Jewish peddlers who sold linens, which her mother would buy — a tablecloth here, a sheet there — slowly stocking the Hope Chest for her and her sister. “The Stanley guys sold brooms, house products…brushes. The insurance guy came by to collect the insurance premiums — ten cents, twenty cents.”  

A network of other relatives lived close by. Connie’s Grandmother’s tenement was on Stone Street. Aunt Tilly lived downstairs. Uncle Arthur and Aunt Ella lived in different tenements in the area. Connie’s father, Stephen Ianucci, was born in Italy in 1890. Connie remembers that at night, her father would read the paper out-loud and her mother would correct him, in an effort to erase his Italian accent. Dinner was always served at 5:30 p.m.

Connie reminisced some more.  How she and her sister would harmonize with their mother as they washed the dishes -- “we had no tv and the radio was on top of the fridge. The Green Hornet, music, all sorts of shows.”  And she remembered the big black stove with the chrome piece which she would have to polish when her grandmother said “Vieni qua."

Sadly, it was time for us to go. But I’ve got Connie’s recipe and an invitation to come back again. There would be more stories to tell. 

 

 Connie Love’s Irish Soda Bread

8 cups flour
3/4 cup of sugar
4 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt
2 cups of raisins
1 tsp. caraway seeds
About 4 cups of sour milk
(buttermilk or whole milk with one
tablespoon of lemon juice mixed in)

1. Sift dry ingredients together. Add 2 cups of raisins and caraway seeds, if desired. Add 4 to 5 cups of buttermilk (or whole milk with lemon juice). Mix to hold together.  

2. Knead for 1 minute or just mix (not too soft, although never fails, whatever the texture). 

3. Bake at 375 for 40 minutes until golden brown (loaf pans or a cake pan). 

This recipe makes 3 loaves, which freeze well and are delicious when toasted.

 

Bettymarie's Peach Meringue (Schaum Torte) • Lari Robling

Brett Rawson

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A Note from Curator Rozanne Gold: This engaging story comes from Lari Robling, an independent radio producer and writer, currently producing “Voices in the Family” with Dr. Dan Gottlieb for WHYY in Philadelphia. A special pot of tea, carefully placed next to a handwritten recipe card, sets the scene to unlock the secrets to Bettymarie’s Peach Meringue. The card’s yellowed hue and tell-tale splotches hints at past mishaps, while a faded cursive “what’s cookin,” specifies Mom as the author, even calling her by name. Yet the story is not all peaches and cream. The cracked exterior of the cake becomes the metaphor for a complicated mother-daughter relationship, whose sweetness and love stand the test of time. A former restaurant critic for the Philadelphia Daily News, Lari is the author of a wonderful cookbook, Endangered Recipes, published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang. Lari believes that nostalgic memories created by food are the most evocative and compelling of all, especially if they’re handwritten. Thank you, Lari. Twitter handle @larirobling.

Bettymarie's Peach Meringue By Lari Robling 

My mother was a terrible cook. I was about eight years old when I realized that calling the fire department wasn't a step in a recipe. Her impoverished cooking skills were always a puzzle because her mother, my grandmother, was an amazing cook. Grog's pies were legendary and people would find a reason to stop by around dinner — there was always enough food in the pot, and enough room around the table to set another place, or two, or even four! Yet, my mother left that home sadly lacking the ability to put a simple meal on the table. Maybe it’s no coincidence that I became passionate about food later in life.  

There were, however, one or two things she did learn from my grandmother, and my brother and I were grateful for them. One such confection was a mass of fluffy whiteness covered in whipped topping and decorated with fruit. Despite its light texture, and much to our mother's chagrin, we called it Cement Cake. Although she took this as one of endless insults attached to her skill-less cooking, it was an apt description of what the cake looked like prior to being dressed up with fruit and cream — a cracked sidewalk. 

This dessert is Pavlova-like (sometimes called Pavlov), and baked in a spring-form pan rather than laboriously piped out of a pastry bag.  Preparing it this way results in a dreamy, marshmallow-like interior encased in a brittle shell. 

The original version came from my grandmother's neighbor and called for “tinned peaches.” Over time, we swapped the canned peaches for fresh, or sometimes substituted fresh strawberries or blueberries, or other fruit in season. I've even used kiwi, which adds a nice tart contrast to what is basically a very sweet meringue. But the most exciting version was the one I made with the gooseberries from my backyard bush.

Eventually, the non-dairy whipped topping gave way to whipped heavy cream.  And what I’ve learned is that the recipe is almost foolproof, as even my mother could make it reliably.

I was always curious about the origin of this recipe — did some cook lack a pastry bag and plop a Pavlov into a spring-form pan? Was this dish a regional Ohio thing where I was from? I finally found the answer when researching my book, Endangered Recipes and read The Molly Goldberg Jewish Cookbook. There it was — Schaum Torte, a flour-less cake for Passover (that explained the non-dairy topping!).

I wonder how many countless handwritten recipes such as this one were passed over fences or across clothes lines over the years?  From neighbor to neighbor, from mother-to-daughter, and now mother-to-son (my son Ben devours it anytime I make this cake), it is a beautiful testament to the nurturing bonds we share.

It’s nice to have a sweet memory of my mother to mollify our sometimes contentious relationship.  And I don’t call it Cement Cake any more. 

 

Bettymarie’s Peach Meringue 

Cake

6 egg whites
2 cups, sugar
2 teaspoons, vanilla extract
2 teaspoons, apple cider vinegar

Topping

2 cups, heavy cream
1 pint, fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
(reserve some whole for garnish)
or fresh fruit of your choice.

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

2. To make the cake: Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until stiff. Add sugar slowly while beating at slow speed. Blend in vanilla and vinegar. Spoon batter into a 9-inch springform pan. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove cake from oven and let cool (it will deflate and crack; don't worry you cover the whole affair up).

3. To make the topping: Just before serving, whip cream. Arrange fruit on top of cake, reserving some for garnish. Spread the cream on the top and sides of the cake. 

 
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Spinach Pie • Rozanne Gold

Brett Rawson

Note from Curator Rozanne Gold: I am grateful to Steve North and his mother Bunny North for sending me this wonderful recipe belonging to Grace Cohen.  Steve is one of my oldest friends and an award-winning journalist, and Bunny is one of the best bakers I know.  Grace and Bunny were close friends for years. This poignant story was told to me by Michael Cohen, whose mother Grace was the owner/creator/handwriter of this delicious recipe. Thank you to Steve, Bunny, and Michael Cohen for the heartfelt memories. 

Spinach Pie by Rozanne Gold

Imagine starting your day by breaking bread with both sets of grandparents and eating the same dish for seven consecutive years. Michael Cohen did. Talking (and thinking) about this handwritten recipe for spinach pie brought back memories of these breakfasts and illuminated an immigrant history that connected the Ottoman empire with the New World.

“I was so excited by this,” said Michael to me about receiving my phone call to discuss his mother’s handwritten recipe. “I called my sister, Sarita, immediately.”  

Michael’s mother, Grace Cohen (née Matalon), came from a Sephardic Jewish family whose origins were rooted in Turkey and Greece.  

Grace’s mother, Anna, was born in Istanbul. Anna attended the Alliance Française in her birthplace and spoke six languages: Spanish, Greek, Turkish, French, English and Ladino.  Ladino, also known as Judeo-Spanish, was a Romance language derived from Old Spanish that was once the common language of the Jews who lived in the region of the Adriatic Sea, the Balkans, and the Middle-East. Grace's father, Meyer, was born in Salonika (also known as Thessaloniki) a port city located in Northern Greece.  

Meyer and Anna met on a boat in the early 1900s en voyage to New York. They settled on the Lower East Side where a large Sephardic community gravitated towards each other and supported new immigrants. This was a time of no social welfare, so the community was quite insular and tightly knit. They were not very religious but the Sephardim leaned towards traditions.

Anna and Meyer eventually moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn and had Grace, who was an only child. Grace married Michael's father, Sam Cohen, (who is now ninety-three and lives in Coconut Creek, Florida). Grace was 22 when she married Sam at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City.

Grace and Samuel moved to Queens after Michael and his sister was born. Sarita has two children, Matthew and Gayle. Michael Cohen and his wife Marcia have one daughter, named Grace, who is seventeen. 

Michael remembers his mother as a housewife and a very good cook. Grace passed away when he was thirty years old, more than three decades ago. He says that feeling never goes away.  

"Whatever she cooked, we all ate and loved it. But actually, both of my grandmothers, Anna and Sara, made this dish. They called it desayuno and it was eaten for desayuno (which means breakfast.) Every day there was spinach pie, bourekas stuffed with cheeses or eggplant, and watermelon, fruits, figs, olives, feta cheese—every day! The only eggs we had were brown eggs boiled overnight on a low flame.”  

Michael's paternal grandparents were also from Salonika. They all lived near each other for years in a bungalow in the Rockaways where they would share this glorious repast.  

Ladino was spoken all the time. Michael doesn't speak it well but understands it. After all the grandparents died there was no more spinach pie for breakfast. 

Since being reacquainted with this recipe, however, thanks to Michael's friend Steve North and his mother, Bunny North, who is the keeper of Grace's handwritten recipe, Michael is excited to make his mother's spinach pie again (…just maybe not every day). Sarita is the one who still makes it often.

The Sfongato or Fritada is like a pie, solid, and baked in a large tin. It is served warm and cut into large squares.

See the recipe made recently by Allison Radecki. 

 

Spinach Pie
Fritada Sfongato

2 packages, 10 oz. frozen chopped spinach
4 eggs
1/2 cup Matzo meal
1/2 cup water
3/4 lb. feta cheese or farmer cheese**
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
About 4 Tablespoons oil

1. Thaw the spinach. Press out water from frozen spinach.

2. Mix all ingredients together.

3. Put about 4 Tablespoons of oil in a baking pan. When oil gets very hot, sprinkle some matzo meal in pan. It should sizzle and get brown.

4. Pour mixture into hot pan and spread evenly.

5. Bake at 375 for about 1 hour or until the top and sides are brown.

**Even though Grace wrote farmer's in the recipe, it is much tastier made with feta. Bunny North said that feta wasn't that readily available 40 years ago, or that "kosher for Passover" feta wasn't available at all back then. And she always makes this recipe during Passover (as well as during the rest of the year).

 

Vodka Sauce • Allison Radecki

Brett Rawson

Note from Curator Rozanne Gold: This touching story focuses on the re-kindling of father-daughter memories through the unexpected discovery of a handwritten recipe. It is testament to the emotional power that “chicken scratches” can hold. Told by Allison Radecki, a food writer and culinary tour guide, the poignant tale is as much character study as it is a love story. Allison’s neighborhood-based walks in Brownstone Brooklyn trace the history of immigration and culinary change, with each footstep an invocation of her dad’s love of food and people. This hastily scribbled handwritten note on a random piece of paper acts as a time machine to past meals. Over the years, other family members have added comments and drawings to the recipe’s edges, serving to preserve a multi-generational bond and all the memories it holds. Thank you, Allison. 

Vodka Sauce By Allison Radecki

I always assume that everyone’s kitchen contains a recipe archive; a repository stuffed with newspaper clippings, ripped pages from notebooks and other treasured bits of chicken scratch. My collection lives in a practically un-openable kitchen drawer — a space stuffed so tightly, papers burst out at you like a canister of spring-loaded plastic snakes.   

Sure, it would make more sense to gather these papers into a book, slip them within plastic sleeves for easier organization. Yet, for me, the rummaging is the process: the touching of old newsprint, the disarray, the bits of spiral edges that flutter to the kitchen floor like New Year’s confetti in Times Square. Each archive excavation unearths an unexpected relic that can awaken a vivid memory. This is what happened when I uncovered my father’s scrawled instructions for vodka sauce while rooting around for something completely different.

My father, Joseph Radecki, did not cook. He relied on a few simple dishes — scrambled eggs, plain pizza by the slice, ‘veal parm.’ He adored a good prime rib. “The man needs instructions to boil water,’ was my mother’s classic line. This was technically, not true. The only thing I remember him cooking at the stovetop were boiled ‘tube steaks,’ or hot dogs, as they are known to the rest of the world.  

A former police detective and taxi driver, he stumbled into a post-retirement business of showing people “his NYC.” To his clients he was ‘Joe the Cop’, storyteller, procurer of hard-to-get tickets, scholar of city history. “I could get you a seat at the Last Supper if it happens again in New York,” was part of his spiel. I believed him.  Many did, for good reason, and sent their friends to find him.

This recipe for vodka sauce, served with penne pasta, comes from a small, Manhattan dining room, Da Tommaso, with no more than 20 seats. There, the Albanian chef, raised in Italy, prepares classic, Italian meals and does it well.

My Dad used this restaurant as his second office (his first, being the fax-strewn passenger seat of his Chevy Suburban).  He’d bring clients in to dine and used it as a pick-up location for purchases from ticket scalpers. And it was the site of countless family meals. Long after the post-theater diners had paid their checks, we’d stay late and gossip with the host and waiters as they loosened their white jackets, hearing the list of stars that were glimpsed in the dining room that week. If you spoke the words, “Joe the Cop sent me,” (or were recognized as one of his daughters), you never needed a reservation to get in the door, regardless of the time of day.

When my sister discovered the magic that occurred when tomato, vodka, and cream came together, she would rarely order anything else. After nudging my Dad to see if the chef would share his recipe, he came home with this rough outline. Fittingly, it is written on the back of a printed fax from a couple from Louisville, Kentucky, asking for transportation to the Plaza Hotel and suggestions for “things to see in the Big Apple."

Over the years, this recipe became a family collaboration. My mother, a gold medalist in the sport of highlighting, couldn’t resist illuminating words in fluorescent yellow. Her comments (“guard w/ your life!”) and queries (“sauce,” “1/4 cup?”) are scattered about the page of vague instructions.  My sister’s doodles are the tell-tale sign of her presence. Perhaps she was imagining the meals to come.

I look at this recipe and I can hear my father’s pen. The short, solid motions he made when jotting down flight numbers from his ever-present Dictaphone.  As a “graduate of the school of Hard Knocks,” but never college, he was self-conscious about his writing. Not once did I see him use cursive.  Often, he would ask me or my sister to write the last names of clients on his airport arrival signs. When he discovered word-processing (and stopped fighting with the computer printer), he never looked back. “No one wants to see my boxy letters,” he would say.

I do. It’s been over two years since he died. I miss him terribly. I even miss his scattered papers. How unexpected it was to reconnect with him through his block print and this recipe.

Vodka Sauce

Virgin olive oil
Let oil get hot
Throw a little shallots
Speck of red pepper
Little vodka (1/2 shot)
Tomato
Touch of Cream

Candied Cranberries • Rozanne Gold

Brett Rawson

Candied Cranberries by Rozanne Gold

My cousin, Josh Rovner, knew more about food when he was twelve than most of my friends do now — and this was before the age of non-stop TV cooking shows. He was sophisticated in his taste and whenever this gastronaut's family came to New York, Josh had a knowing list of restaurants that had to be visited. He yearned to be a chef, but I believed my ambitious cousin from North Canton, Ohio, should extend his reach beyond the kitchen. So he went to Cornell and wound up being a big deal "revenue management guru" with Hilton Hotels.

So, I was surprised to receive this exceedingly simple recipe from him, but it is one he treasures. It had been handwritten to Josh by his Nana Gold (my Aunt Helen), sometime around 2000. Helen died at the age of 94 in 2006.

Naturally, Josh has upheld the quintessential American family tradition of serving them at Thanksgiving, but he now makes the sweet-and-tart syrupy confection all year long to spoon over a daily helping of yogurt. Josh keeps the recipe on the side of his refrigerator, so it always is in easy reach.  I didn't remember Helen cooking. She was married to my father's brother, Leslie Gold, and they traveled all over the world. They lived in Avon, Massachusetts, not far from my own grandmother, Lottie Gold, who was a fantastic baker.  I think of Helen as a solid New Englander with a hankering for lobster and my grandmother's ethereal blueberry muffins.  

Josh is now married, lives in Texas, has a beautiful young daughter, and cooks dinner almost every night. He is a total foodie and up to date with every chef and kitchen trend.  Aunt Helen's candied cranberries recipe is unusually precise, including altering some ingredient quantities for various batch sizes. Josh always makes the largest amount so he is guaranteed lots of leftovers. Nowadays, he recreates the recipe with a bit of grated orange zest at the end for depth of flavor— “not too much to mask the cranberry, but just enough to enhance and harmonize,” he adds. That said, he quietly confesses that his mother prefers the original recipe. Judging by the photo Josh sent of the finished product, his Nana’s cranberries indeed do  look “candied” and glistening.

This is an effect I’ve always wanted but have failed to achieve! It was lovely to learn more about Helen through her recipe and Josh’s remembrance.  That's the magic of handwritten.

 

"Wash cranberries. Drain. Pour in pot. Add sugar. Stir thoroughly. Add water. Stir over medium to high heat. Be careful not to burn. Lower heat and boil for about 15 - 20 minutes. Once berries begin to boil DO NOT STIR. Skim carefully once berries boil. Let cool before transferring to container. Once cool, store in refrigerator!"