By Harriet P. Gross
Sometimes there are contests for naming things, with great cash prizes or at least some recognition. And sometimes there are non-contests, when people put out a call for free help. Here’s one of the latter, which has the potential to put your recommendation of a name up in lights sometime in the future — although probably the far-too-distant future. Let me give you the background:
My oldest and dearest friend, who has been that since the day I moved in as her next-door neighbor more than 47 years ago, has a granddaughter who’s always loved to cook. Her inspiration for cooking came from this same person, my friend and her grandmother, who has always been the superwoman of the stove. Her stuffed cabbage (she calls those wonderful meat rolls “prakas,” which is a different culture from mine, but no matter!) are to die for. Her rugalach melt in your mouth — literally. And for the first 17 of those 47 years, until I moved a thousand miles away, I was privileged to break the Yom Kippur fast at her table, with her blintzes. Need I say more?
My friend is the mother of two daughters and a son. This granddaughter, the cooking-lover, is the child of her son, who married a woman who did not love to cook. But she has more than made up for her mother’s kitchen omissions: She is now the executive chef at a major San Francisco hotel. However, she has another dream, that of someday replicating commercially the Jewish cooking she learned from her paternal grandma. She recently shared this ambition with my dear friend, who has shared it with me and given me permission to pass it on to you. Here is Erica’s letter embodying the ultimate hopes for her own culinary future, and asking for a special kind of help:
“I’ve been thinking a lot about my deli and what it will be when it grows up, which probably won’t be for a few years. I can see it in my mind, though: a white-tiled space with a long counter that stretches the length of the space. I would have smoked fish, shmears, seasonal salads, house-smoked and roasted meats, a few sausages, my pastrami, some breads and a few select cheeses. Then a slicer and seasonal condiments, mostly handmade ones.
“I want a few wooden wine barrels, one for sauerkraut, one for kosher pickles and one for house-made vinegar, which I would sell by the ounce. I also want to do a good dinner-to-go business, with rotisserie chicken and roast meats, meatloafs, soups — a nightly-changing dinner that you could pre-order and take home with you.
“Grammie, I was wondering if you would help me name my deli. I want the name to be something that helps to reflect the seasonality of California and the bounty that is available to us. Also something that invokes an old nostalgia, a handmade quality, but without being ‘cheesy.’ I wondered if there was a word or two in Yiddish that would be accessible and easy to pronounce. I want a name that means something — but if people don’t know what it means, that would be OK, because it won’t matter. Does that make sense?
“I thought maybe you would help me with this because I love you and want you to always be a part of my life and my future….”
My old friend is the one who’s always first to volunteer to bring wonderful desserts for events at her synagogue, who never arrives anywhere without a gift of something edible and homemade. But reality says this cannot go on forever. She is now heading toward her 83rd birthday. Her granddaughter is working hard in the incredible kitchen she supervises, saving to have that dream deli of her own, but my friend may not see the dream herself when it is finally realized. Still, her legacy will live on in the foods prepared there, and in the name of the place, which my friend has asked me to help her find. And I’m asking you, the readers, for suggestions.
Something in Yiddish that evokes the fluffiest matzah balls floating in the most flavorful chicken soup, the crispiest latkes topped with some just-perfect home-cooked apple sauce. Something to convey the “tam” of a special Boubby, a name that will draw people into a deli bound to be filled with love and memories as well as wonderful food. Any ideas?
(How do you say “Help!” in Yiddish?)