Mother’s Day is a special day for me as it is a constant reminder of the birth of my twin sons. They were born on this day 20 years ago. This weekend we will have a dinner and our usual family time and I will cherish it as I always do. I will also think of my deceased mother and mother in law and all the things that these women did in their lives for their children.
Somewhere in all of this I will remember all the food my mother used to make when she was still energetic and able to “cook up a storm”. When I was a little girl, we lived in Indiana and in that little place called Hessville, my mother made kitchen magic. Our kitchen table was large and made of that tubular steel legs and a kind of black and white marble looking top. The chairs were thick and padded in the 1950’s fashion. This table would be draped in homemade noodle dough. The raw dough covered the table and it was a table for six. It would dry and my mother would cut them into long thin strips for noodle soup and a number of other dishes. This was a huge process and one that she did skillfully.
I can still taste my mother’s apple slices with a light frosting glaze. I can hardly believe that even though she stopped making these probably in the 1960’s I can still taste them and see them. She would make a cookie pan full of these slices. Perfect dough, just the right filling and somehow they would all stay together and taste wonderful.
When we moved to South Holland I was a girl of about 6. Being the youngest in the family, I was probably technically spoiled, but when I think about it, with reference to food, I was not. Technically, I got the least home made goodies, I was not around to experience all the tasty efforts of my mother and grandmother, only part of them, as they gave in to the modern age and packaged noodles, store bought apple slices and other easily obtainable foods. I missed years of their cooking, being born last.
Yes, some foods were still homemade, all the tasty dishes that had to be made that people craved and could not be found in the freezercase, these included stuffed cabbage, nut rolls, chicken paprikash, cucumbers and sour cream, krazy cake, sweet bread, etc. Time marches on and not everyone can make my grandmother’s nut rolls or my mother’s chicken paprikash. (although, I make a valiant effort) There was an old custom in some cultures that you did not share your family recipes, at least not in their entirety. So if you had Mrs. Vamousch’s nut roll recipe, you did not have it exact, exact. Some little piece of information got left out. It often dies with the last matriarch of a family if it has not been orally passed down in the family.
In the old days your recipes were like gold. They were coveted. It was something that only a few people understand or practice today. The times they lived in were different. They had very little in the way of material goods, or wealth. Their wealth was in things like their unique knowledge of how they did something, how they prepared their special foods, or wine or prepared something. Women had great pride in their traditions and especially their recipes. Some villages were special for certain kinds of this or that. Maybe it was wine, because only a certain kind of plum grew there.
In WWII there was a certain kind of hell called Terezin or Theresienstadt. It was a ghetto and concentration camp. It was a place that Hitler decorated up to show that Jews were being treated well to the Red Cross and other authorities that it was necessary to impress. They even made a film about it for propaganda purposes.
This camp was located in Czechoslovakia and while it was only about 40 miles north of Prague it was worlds away. It was first a holding camp prior to departure for Auschwitz and other camps. Prominent people, special Jews, were brought to this camp. Some even paid their own passage.
In the midst of this horrid place, mothers and grandmothers recalled their family recipes and committed them to pages long hidden in Terezin. Women, starved and deprived of their lives for a brief moment in time committed their secrets to paper and hid them away. Mina Pachter, was the person who complied the recipes, her daughter survived by escaping to Palestine, and 25 years after the war, the manuscript which included letters and poems by Mina found there way to her in New York, where she had immigrated.
My gesture today in remembering these women and their effort to preserve memories of their favorite dishes, their ability to cook, to do for their families, to remember entertaining, the joy of feeding someone, while they starved, is a renewed testimony to their spirit.
I remember so much about my mother and grandmother, but as a child I remember the food, the kitchen, the smells and the happiness of holiday meals. This mother’s day I will prepare a turkey given to us by a friend who likes to shower us with food at Christmas time. I will prepare it for my houseful of children and their college friend who lives to far away to visit his mother. I will make food the following weekend for my daughter’s tent party and people who have been here before are already talking about if I will make this food or that food.
I am really, sincerely, not a good cook. When I was young I did not watch carefully how to cook things my mother made. I could fail at making jello. I have said that when I married that changed. I began to make food as an expression of love.
To honor the women who cook with love, here is a recipe from the book In Memories Kitchen, a Legacy from the Women of Terezin. Edited by Cara De Silva, Translated by Bianca Steiner Brown with a forward by Michael Berenbaum, Director the United States Holocaust Research Institute, Washington D.C. 1996 Jason Aronson Inc. (Publisher ) New Jersey.
Viennese Dumplings (Mrs. Weil)
Wiener Knödel (Frau Weil)
Translated from the German, page 40 of Memory’s Kitchen
Amounts are not exact and sometimes ingredients are missing. I have made packaged dumplings in the past, found with imported German foods from Bavaria. Inmates at this ghetto/camp/city were from mostly Czechoslovakia but also Austria and Germany as well as other places, their recipes reflect that, and they were translated from other languages besides German.
Pour over six rolls cut into cubes, ¼ liter hot milk, 1 spoon butter. Mix well. When cooled add 2 eggs, a little salt, and as much flour as it absorbs. Let stand. Form dumplings and before the meal, boil 8-10 minutes. Sprinkle dumplings with cinnamon and sugar, or serve (plain) with roasts.
Semmelknödel - Bread Dumplings
From Whats4Eats Site
· Stale rolls or bread, cubed -- 10-12 rolls, or about 1 pound
· Warm milk -- 3/4 to 1 1/4 cups
· Eggs, beaten -- 2-3
· Fresh parsley, minced -- 2 tablespoons
· Salt and pepper -- to season
1. Place the bread in large bowl and pour in the warm milk, using more or less depending on how dry the bread is. Using your hands, knead the milk lightly into the bread. Cover and set aside to rest for about 30 minutes.
2. Mash the soaked bread to form a thick dough. Mix in the eggs one at a time, incorporating each one before adding the next. Only use the third egg if the dough is too dry to form balls that hold togehter.
3. Add the parsley, salt and pepper and knead until smooth. If the dough seems too loose or sticky, add 1-2 tablespoons of flour or some breadcrumbs to firm it up.
4. Using wetted hands, form 1/4-cup portions of the dough into balls and set aside on a baking sheet until all the dough has been used up.
5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to a slow simmer and drop the dumplings carefully into the water. Simmer for about 20 minutes, gently stirring occasionally.
6. Remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon and serve hot.
· Schinkenknödel: Mix 1/3 poundb chopped ham into the dough
.· Sauté 1/2 minced onion in 2 tablespoons of butter and mix it into the dough.
· Other possible additions: thyme, sage, marjoram, or a pinch of nutmeg.
· Leftover dumplings can be sliced into rounds and browned in a little butter.
· The bread mixture should form a dough that can be molded into balls. How much milk and how many eggs to add is heavily dependent on the moisture content of the bread. Too much liquid, and the dough will be too wet to form balls. Too little liquid, and the dumplings will fall apart.
· Do not use American-style sandwich bread for this recipe as it is too soft and collapses too completely. Use a good quality roll or bread that has some chew.