Food Memories

Cookbooks are spread out all over the table signaling the approach of Rosh HaShana (the beginning of the Jewish year 5767) and heralding the many holidays which trail in Rosh HaShana’s wake. Even though on one of those holidays we abstain from food and drink for 25 hours, the month following the first day of the new year is chock full of feasting. Throw in some children wending their way home for the holidays along with guests for each festive meal and the cooking adds up. Despite that, the cookbooks are actually more for window dressing than for practicality.

That is because each holiday has its own traditional foods and I have no intention of breaking rank this year. Some of those foods, like apples dipped in honey to welcome in a sweet year, will be found universally at Jewish tables. Others, like Pears Helene, have become our own family’s traditions, to the point that a Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) without that dessert would feel lacking. So, while I might add one new side dish or replace the honey cake that my husband tells me he loves but never eats more than one slice from, with a new pastry, for the most part all I do is look at my menus going back to the first year I was married, and make exactly the same things one more time.

I’ve already baked my mandlen otherwise known as soup nuts. (Warning – these bear absolutely no resemblance to items sold under the same name in the local supermarket) I needed to make these soup accompaniments early in order to be able to mail them out to the children who won’t be home for Rosh HaShana. Sending them gives the long distance children a taste of home and a tangible sign that I’m thinking of them and missing them. But there’s way more in the package. Not only are the mandlen concrete evidence of my love, they are also meant to serve as reminders. The recipe I use was handed down to me by my mother and grandmother and when my mother-in-law shared a few of her favorite recipes with me, it was in that treasure trove as well. So the mandlen are meant to remind my children of their origins. They are meant to force the recipients to answer the question of whether these women, and the women from whom they got the recipes so on and so forth, would be proud to claim them as descendants. Whether their actions reflect well on those who came before them, or whether they diminish them.

Another name for Rosh HaShana is The Day of Remembrance. It is a day for Jews to remember from where we come and to hope that our actions reflect well on Him. It is a day for asking God to remember us with mercy rather than with harsh judgment. It is a good day and the beginning of a good month in which to eat foods that link us to our past, because staying true to that past is one of the surest ways to propel ourselves into a good future.

1 thought on “Food Memories”

  1. Susan, I cried after reading this. Your careful descriptions of the foods you prepare in your kitchen and linking them to the generations of women who cooked them and the grateful mouths who ate them, took me right back to years and years of the traditional foods for our family Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

    Every year, our tables would not be the same without my mother’s stuffing, handed down to her from her mother. The creamed green beans and cruncy onions, the festive sweet potatoes that are more like a desert than a vegetable dish. We must have black olives for the children to put on each one of their fingers and at least one objection from a mother sitting at the table. That is unless we kids got a table all to ourselves. They never linked the separate kids’ table to the use of every single olive missing, so they brought more for us the next year so as not to run out.

    There are four children in my family and my grandmother would get requests for our favorite pie – which meant of course that she had to make at LEAST four different kinds of pie. And she was ALWAYS happy to do it! I can tell you all of them: My eldest brother Jason’s is pecan, Scott’s was pumpkin, mine was blackberry and Aaron’s was apple.

    I miss those days as a child and now with her daughters-in-law at her side, my mother would prepare the meals. I bloomed late in the game and for a time, wanted to do my own thing. Now that I have children, look forward to those same traditional foods that my grandmother and my mother served each year and that I too will serve to my children.

    I cherish this article Susan and will be passing it along to my friends and to my mother.

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