November 5, 2010
Enjoy Yiddish cooking time
For those looking for true old-world recipes, or just a nostalgic look at eastern European Jewish life of a century ago, Winnipeg-born, Jerusalem resident Bracha Weingrod has published a newly translated edition of H. Braun’s The Yiddish Family Cookbook.
Weingrod will talk about this unconventional cookbook on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 3:15 p.m., at the Weinberg Residence, and Wednesday, Nov. 10, 1 p.m., at the Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library, but she spoke to the Independent first.
JI: This is a unique cookbook. How did you come by it?
BW: A long story that I’ll make short. In 1974, when we finally arrived permanently in Israel, we decided to buy a house … a rather old, dilapidated house in Jerusalem. At that time, one needed five guarantors in order to obtain a mortgage. So five dear friends signed for us and we were able to move in and start renovating. As soon as the house was livable, we invited these friends back for a housewarming party … putting up signs for their contributions: the “Crown Bathroom” or the “Tadmor Library,” etc. Chaim and Miriam Tadmor, especially Chaim, shared my love of Yiddish.
A professor of Assyriology, Chaim spent sabbaticals abroad peering into bookstores and foraging for exotic books. He found and presented to us a worn but legible book called Dos Familien Kokh Bookh, published in 1914 in New York, and it remained on my shelf along with my collection of cookbooks.
JI: What sparked your recent interest?
BW: In 1982, we spent a year in Stonybrook, N.Y. ... my husband’s sabbatical. As usual, I busied myself volunteering with dyslexic students and others with language problems. Then I met Rose Coser, a sociologist who was collecting taped interviews from older Italian and Jewish women. She had taken umbrage with Irving Howe’s well-known World of our Fathers and was determined to write a World of our Mothers.
Having spent over a year in Sardinia, Italy, and recalling my years as a Yiddish teacher in Winnipeg and Chicago, I volunteered to help translate the interviews. And then I thought, how can one write about the world of our mothers without a cookbook? At once, I began to read and was amazed at the wisdom, the wit and the good sense of H. Braun, the author of the old cookbook.
JI: Why did you wait so long?
BW: I was a working teacher at the David Yellin Teachers’ College [in Jerusalem], but when I retired I began to rekindle my love of Yiddish. I would look at the book, look up words, translate, chuckle and thoroughly enjoy the words and sayings. It was a labor of love.
JI: Why publish through Amazon?
BW: After I received almost 20 of the warmest, most enthusiastic rejection letters, I decided I would go it alone and self-publish through Amazon’s Createspace venue.
JI: How did that go?
BW: The writing and the editing were pleasurable and painless. What surprised me was the difficulty in choosing pictures, obtaining submission requirements, and making surprisingly large payments to get permission.
JI: How would you describe your audience?
BW: This book is geared to those who love history as much as cooking. It is a picture of a time, when Jewish women were anxious to become Americans or Canadians. When they wanted to imitate their neighbors, speak like them, understand them, buy like them and cook like them. [Historian] Hasia Diner, in her excellent introduction, puts this period into an academic framework, and places these women in the “second” surge of immigrants, later than those of the first (1890-1915) huge wave of newcomers.
JI: Do you feel that this cookbook is useful and relevant today?
BW: For many yes, but not for everyone. The recipes use the basic ingredients of the day, which in fact speak to the hearts of today’s health-food generation. Braun, in 1914, dismisses the importance of schmaltz (chicken fat) for olive oil.
JI: What were your favorite parts of the book?
BW: The chapter on “Cooking for a Sick One” (“Kokhen far a Kranken”) was fun. There are descriptions of how to test the heat of an oven, what is harmful to the stomach, how to prevent store owners from cheating unsuspecting women, how to test whether a fish is fresh, or a chicken is young or old ... all replete with wisdom and a few politically incorrect remarks, as well!
JI: Do you think there is a market for a 100-year-old cookbook?
BW: Those who have read it find it interesting, charming and full of nostalgia. The response to the book has been pretty enthusiastic, enough to keep me optimistic regarding how it will be received by others who might want to read it. It’s the kind of book you can poke your nose into now and then…. You can read a page or a section and quickly find yourself imaging another era. For me, this was a trip and a true labor of love! I may not have literally gone back to my mother’s village in Mogilov, Russia, but I certainly felt transported and enveloped in the warmth of going back to my roots, something I hope that my readers will also feel.
Barry Corrin is semi-retired, working part-time as a social worker at Richmond General Hospital. He is Bracha Weingrod’s nephew.