A change of course: from recipes to family history
After two years of sharing recipes, we have decided to change course and use this blog to record memories of our grandparents, Julius and Rebecca Garfield. Their story echoes the path of early 20th-century immigrants to the US, who brought their Eastern European culture across the Atlantic, while absorbing the new life in America. We begin our new series with a memoir of Rebecca's cooking, written by her daughter-in-law, our mother Amy, when she was about 85-years of age.
Cooking lessons with my mother-in-law, by Amy Garfield
“I never did any cooking before I came to America,” my new mother-in-law informed me one afternoon soon after her son Sol and I were married. “My grandmother did all the cooking at our home in Krynki, Poland, and our mother managed the household affairs and the care of eight children. The skill I was taught was sewing.”
“When I came to America at the age of seventeen I was able to get a job in a men’s clothing factory and didn’t need to learn to cook until I married Julius,” (my father-in-law.) “He taught me to cook, and everything I know about cooking I learned from him.”
She was a good pupil and developed a reputation for traditional Jewish cuisine. She boasted that she was famous for her matzo balls, her potato kugel, and above all, her gefilte fish.
At Sol’s request I used to watch her prepare these and other dishes so I could make them for him. I had to learn by watching because she could never tell me the exact quantities of ingredients to use. I tried very hard to do things just the way she did, but must have gone astray somewhere because Sol would complain, “it was never as good as Mother used to make.”
As I look back at her cuisine I realize that it was basically Hungarian. Take her preparation of chicken for example. She always bought a whole chicken because she loved getting things like lots of little eggs as yet unborn, oodles of chicken fat to render into “schmaltz”, and those hideous chicken feet that were her favorite. After she cut up the chicken she would start a soup with them. She would remove the chicken pieces at the right time and cover them with a tasty tomato sauce, and finish cooking them in the over. She also used the liver and gizzards and heart to make chopped liver—the invariable first course. One basic ingredient for that was “gribenes,” tiny pieces of crisp chicken fat cooked with onion and giving off a tantalizing aroma. I can almost smell it now as I recall its pungent quality.
Amy poses with her new mother- and father-in-law, December 25, 1945: