By Tina Wasserman
When I premiered my first book at the URJ Biennial in Toronto I shlepped 2 gallons of chicken soup through customs (frozen and in my checked luggage). Why? I had the soup heating up by the entrance to the lecture hall where I was to speak, and 250 people passed through that door before settling into their seats. After I finished my lecture about the history of Jewish food since the expulsion from Spain in 1492, there was more than enough time for questions; the questions came fast and furious about recipes from ancestors that weren’t written down on paper but were etched in the memories of the audience. The chicken soup had done its trick. The attendees’ food memories were subliminally jogged.
Many questions were directed toward Hungarian recipes. I wondered why these recipes had been lost. I then realized that there were only three reasons food memories even had a chance of survival. Either people escaped before the war, they were hidden as non-Jews during the war or they survived the camps. Then there were only a few years before Communism arrived and religious practices were stifled. No wonder so many recipes were lost.
Jan. 27 is Holocaust Remembrance Day, the day that Auschwitz and Birkenau were liberated. Coincidentally I have been reading two books about food memories from and about Holocaust survivors. “Miriam’s Kitchen” relates the impact Miriam and her food had on her daughter-in-law’s reigniting food and religious practices in her home with her young children. The other book was given to me by my children who immediately knew it would have significant meaning for me: “Honey Cakes and Latkes, Recipes from the Old World by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Survivors.” Many books purport to have good recipes that turned out to be 1950s American cuisine (hello, tuna noodle casserole). But this book is the real deal and with poignant comments about the origins of the recipes: the last meal eaten together before the Nazis rounded up the family and sent them to Auschwitz, the simple recipe that was given to a child after the war to fatten him from his post-camp emaciation.
Last year the secretary general of the Council of Europe said the following words that are prescient in our modern times and especially in our country today: “Today we remember the horrors of the Holocaust. In doing so, it is important to remind ourselves of how the terror started. What became the Shoah did not start with physical attacks. It began with…hateful words, slander and conspiracy theories that fed on anti-Jewish sentiment that had long existed in parts of Europe. We all have the obligation to make sure that this can and will never ever happen again.”
In honor of those who kept the memory and passed it down to us, I share these recipes with you.
Rachel’s Fantastical Chicken Soup
There were, unsurprisingly, many recipes for chicken soup in the “Honey Cakes and Latkes” book. Some were simple, chicken with added flanken and soup greens and dill added at the end; others were elaborate, many-ingredient soups, but always with dill. My mother must have learned how to make chicken soup from her cousins who escaped just before the war broke out, because my recipe is almost identical with Rachel Roth’s Fantastical Chicken Soup, which she often recited to prisoners as they were forced to stand in the freezing cold for night roll call.
- 4 pounds chicken
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
- 3 sprigs fresh parsley
- 3 sprigs fresh dill
- 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper, or to taste
- 1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
- 2 large onions, quartered
- 5 carrots, peeled and halved
- 3 stalks celery, sliced into ½-inch pieces
- 8 ounces thin noodles
- ¼ small Savoy cabbage
1. Put the chicken in a large stockpot. Cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat.
2. Add the garlic, parsley, dill, pepper and salt, then cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 to 2½ hours.
3. Add the onions, carrots and celery for the last hour of the cooking time.
4. Remove and bone the chicken, pulling meat into large chunks.
5. Add the noodles and cabbage to the pot and cook for 5 minutes, or until the noodles and cabbage are softened.
6. Return the chicken to the broth to heat through before serving.
• The numbering of steps is my addition for simplicity. The words are all Rachel’s.
• Although the recipe doesn’t stipulate, it is best to cut up the chicken if you are using a 6-quart pot. Otherwise, the amount of water will be deceptively high and really not yield a good quantity of soup.
• You can strain the soup and then add the carrots back with the chicken chunks if you want a clear broth.
• Obviously, nothing was wasted when cooking in prewar Europe so all the vegetables were eaten.
• If you are using a kosher chicken (which I highly recommend even if you do not keep kosher) you might go easy on the salt until the end of cooking since kosher chickens have already been salted and soaked but still retain some of the saltiness.
For many of us, the secret ingredient in our food recipes is the love for our past and our present families. Anneliese Nossbaum’s waffle recipe was tied to her will with a ribbon. She made these waffles on the same waffle iron for decades and even sent them frozen to Israel when her children lived there. She felt it was an expression of her love. I am sure you all can relate. I once overnighted 5 pounds of my rugelach to my son in Thailand for his birthday. My love was in every bit of the dough and cinnamon and sugar!
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3 cups sour cream
- A little milk, as needed, for consistency
1. Generously grease a waffle iron with nonstick cooking spray and leave to preheat.
2. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the butter.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, sugar and baking powder.
4. Mix the flour mixture into the egg mixture, then add the sour cream. Add some milk, a drop at a time, if needed, to reach a somewhat thick, pourable consistency.
5. Using a soup ladle or spouted measuring cup, pour a small amount of batter into the waffle iron to create a thin layer. Hold the lid open for a few seconds before closing.
6. Let cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until golden on both sides (the cook time may need to be adjusted depending on the waffle iron — hers was old).
7. Remove the waffle from the iron and let cool slightly before sprinkling with sugar.
8. Repeat with the remaining batter.
• Waffles can be frozen and defrosted at room temperature.
• These waffles are thin and crepe-like, not fluffy Belgian waffles.
• This recipe could be cut in half by using 1 large egg and 2 tablespoons egg whites or even 2 large eggs since eggs in the old country were probably larger.
• Whole-fat, thick Greek yogurt could be substituted for the sour cream if need be.
• The high liquid content of these waffles creates the more delicate waffle.