From the Recipe Box of: Anne Sandler
Recipe Story:FASTS FROM THE PAST
My father grew up poor. Not no-food-on-the-table poor, but sleep-on-a-Murphy-bed- outside-the-kitchen poor. What he had in abundance, however, were cousins. Though he was an only child to older parents, his mother had six siblings and his father had seven.
By the time I paid even scant attention to who was who at Sondra and Maury’s annual Yom Kippur break-the-fast, my dad’s parents were gone. But their generation reminisced about my grandmother’s baking, and especially her Mandelbrot.
In the early years, to avoid kisses and giving updates about what grade I was in now, I went from room to room separating cashews from hazelnuts, and extracting crackly pink Fannie May’s from other assorted chocolates. I’d overhear adults arguing about whether a cup of black coffee disqualified a claim of fasting.
Introductions weren’t of interest.
“You remember Michael, Amy and Elliot’s son?”
I never did. But I knew I’d see him again next year, at this very same meal.
While we waited for Helen, Mimi, Bennett, and the other Conservatives, who stayed at Temple until the bitter end, I’d stroll around the dining room table, deciding in advance what to pile on my plate once the plastic wrap was removed. The standbys both beckoned and repulsed. Chopped liver sprinkled with chopped hard-boiled eggs. Thick hunks of baked bologna with dark, curled edges. Artichoke dip, stuffed mushrooms, white fish. Nova and
lox - though that seemed redundant. Cold cuts, tuna and egg salad, cream cheese – plain and
dotted with chives. Sliced cucumbers, sliced tomatoes, sliced onions. A mountain of sliced bagels with poppy and sesame seeds already dusting the tablecloth. Kugel with raisins, kugel with crushed corn flakes, and my favorite –unsweetened kugel with super-crunchy noodles.
But the buffet along the wall required the most advanced planning. Bundt cakes, ruggelach, layer cakes. Dipped fruits and brownies. Caramel apples, mini tarts. Crescent shaped cookies with powdered sugar. Impossible choices.
One year my mother asked what she could bring.
“What do you make?” wondered Sondra.
“I can do a Jello mold with fruit and mini marshmallows,” suggested my mom.
“That sounds great,” came the reply.
Although Sondra, and her sister, Elaine, spent months preparing for this night, planning and shopping, baking and freezing, anything anyone brought was welcome.
When we came to the door, heart-shaped Jello mold in hand, Sondra had the time of her life. That Jello mold was probably intended for lovers – a perfect dish for two. Sondra was expecting upwards of 100 ravenous guests.
To this day, Sondra laughs herself to tears over that “contribution.”
In the later years, when I did fast, waiting for the feast would have been a true test of willpower. But by then Sondra and Maury tented their back yard to handle the crowd, and nobody waited for latecomers. No longer a night exclusively for cousins, Sondra and Maury began including their neighbors and friends. We made little effort at those introductions.
I did, however, recognize cousins. By then I had been to weddings, bar mitzvahs and some funerals. I could pin the leaves on the family tree, and we pulled together amidst the sea of new strangers.
The food went through its own metamorphosis. There were the old standbys, of course – the baked bologna, the white fish, the kugel with raisins, the kugel with crumbled corn flakes, and the unsweetened super-crunchy noodle kugel. But inside the tent was sushi that didn’t make any sense to me. Also, my generation had begun to contribute: homemade pizzas, salad with Chinese noodles, chocolate-chip Mandelbrot. The food could no longer fit around the dining room table so card tables were installed in the foyer as well.
I hadn’t known there was a Mandelbrot competition between sisters, but when I asked Carol for her recipe, she said that “Grandma Betty (my aunt) and Aunt Anne (my grandma) had their secrets,” and “her” recipe would not be shared.
My grandmother’s recipes – stained index cards covered with her ballpoint script, were lost long ago. I would give anything for another taste of her sour cream cake with the nut and cinnamon layer in the center. My dad feels the same about the moist chocolate cake that he used to devour, unfrosted.
My grandmother would have shared her recipes in a heartbeat, so it kind of kills me that Carol clings so tightly to Aunt Betty’s secrets. Perhaps some day she will loosen her grip.
It would be nice to imagine that Ari or Judd, Carol’s kids, would share the recipe with Spencer, Ian or Graham, my boys. But sadly, they hardly know one another.
Sondra and Maury moved into an apartment 5 or so years ago, before my kids were much interested in introductions. That first year, they hosted break-the-fast in their building’s hospitality room, but it didn’t begin to capture the holiday tradition. There were no bowls of nuts to separate, no pink peppermint Fannie May’s. No Uncle Jules, Aunt Shirley, Uncle Dave. Each family unit kept mostly to themselves.
And after that we were on our own.
Sometimes we go to a friends’ house, where homemade waffles and yogurt parfaits are de rigueur. I overhear the adults arguing about whether a cup of black coffee disqualifies a claim of fasting.
And no matter how much I appreciate the hospitality of these loving friends, no matter how much I prefer caramelized granola to sizzling hunks of bologna, I don’t believe I will ever be full again following a Yom Kippur fast.