See attached photos of the recipe my mother generated when she measured the ingredients her mother used to bake rugelakh. Of course, we don’t know the size of the “glass” my grandmother used to measure four that day.
From the Recipe Box of: RHH
Rita/Ryzl Glassberg Hindin July 21, 2011
My Grandma’s Rugelakh
My mother’s mother and I had a wonderful special relationship. She and my grandpa lived with us from when I was 10 until each passed on, my grandpa the year before I entered college, my grandma the year after. From time before my earliest memories through the end of kindergarten we lived down the block from my grandparents; their home was approximately the midpoint between ours and the lower end of Lincoln Terrace Park in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. During the intervening years, grades 1 -4 for me, we visited most weekends and, of course, holidays. We travelled back to Brooklyn in our first car, the used black Pontiac we’d had to buy and my father had had to learn to drive, as it was the essential prerequisite for moving to our new suburban home in Teaneck, NJ.
But this is a recipe story. Paragraph 1 provides the context; rugelakh stories delineate the segments of my childhood and adolescence.
As a young child: A small satchel of Grandma’s rugelakh and a 16-oz mayonnaise-type jar, filled with milk and outfitted with a piece of wax paper under the lid to prevent leaking. Many (?most) mornings when the weather was conducive, I went with my grandpa, snack in hand, to the Lincoln Terrace Park playground. After a workout on the swings and monkey bar, we’d sit on the park bench and I’d have my mid-morning refreshments, with small bites carefully unwinding each well-rolled ruggel. (An aside, very occasionally (i.e, rarely) my grandpa would take me up into the far reaches of the park where we’d watch men his age playing cards (or checkers?) on cement (stone?) tables.)
First years in Teaneck: Trips over the George Washington Bridge, down the West Side Highway, and from there on to Brooklyn. Travel on the West Side Highway stands out; that road had a pet nickname that surprisingly escapes me for the moment, but most definitely it alluded to the road’s seeming to always be congested. The reward at the end of the trip: arriving at Grandma and Grandpa’s and opening the oven door to find the even-then chipped green enameled bowl full of rugelakh, singletons, twins, triplets for me to sample, unwind or pop the smallest, whole, into my mouth.
Baking rugelakh with my grandma: We’re living together in Teaneck. I’d come into the kitchen in the morning and the amazing, beautiful, gigantic, round paddle-with-a-handle baking board, one of the first possessions my grandma acquired after arriving in America around 1900, would be on the table. This wise piece of wood now my treasured inheritance.
My grandma’s waist-length hair always arranged in two long braids pinned as a sort of crown on the top of her head, today in baking mode, covered in a particular fashion by a particular scarf. The magic of Grandma making the dough, rolling it out, sprinkling on cinnamon and sugar, grated lemon rind, cutting it into sort-of-triangle, cookie-size pieces. All hands on deck to help with rolling the cookies, hiding a few raisins, yellow if we had them, inside. Grandma did some rolling but mostly she presided over the final stage, bending the pliable dough just so and sprinkling a thin stripe of cinnamon-sugar along its length, the touches that enhanced the beauty of the small crescents.
How was the dough made? That’s what we, my mother and I, asked ourselves. My beloved grandma of course did not use a written recipe; actually she’d never been taught to read, not Yiddish or English. My own beloved mother passed on, way too young, in 1989. Another treasured possession is my mother’s hand-written recipe for “Grandma’s Cookies”. I don’t remember being present when it was composed, but there it is, copied below. My mother once sat with her mother when she was baking rugelakh and wrote down ingredients, measured amounts (more or less! How much is “1 glass”?) and what I must assume were for her the essential details of this precious familial wisdom.
My now adult children and I have baked rugelakh together for years. The wife of my nephew who was the first of his generation to marry, encountering the family rugelakh lore a few years ago, learned that I had a tattered couple of sheets with a written recipe for her husband’s great/grandma’s cookies. She earnestly asked to borrow the pages; promptly one of her brothers-in-law e-mailed me a funnily labeled pdf file “Scanned Ancient Text Document from Rita During the Sheva Berachot”. All three nephews are now married; I don’t recall whose Sheva Berachot occasioned my invitation to a communal rugelakh-baking session, and that next twist in story. Suppose I could check the date on the e-mail; guess I’ll do that after I get this piece in.
What a pleasure, just yesterday, baking rugelakh, actually teaching baking rugelakh, with Isabella Freedman Senior Camp guests.
2nd Rugelakh Story
Rugelakh Story #2
Rita Hindin’s Remarks at the October 18, 2018 Dedication of the Paul Peck Gallery in the Biomedical Visualization Program of the University of Illinois-Chicago
Thank you for inviting me to say a few words, John. There’s a marvelous back-story to my being here. It’s about diverse relationships and diverse gifts and spans 100 years. So, a lot to communicate; I’ve written it out, to avoid my tendency to meander. The story begins 7 months ago. I receive a wholly unexpected email, from John. It reads in part:
I’m the Program Director for the Biomedical Visualization graduate program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and I was given your contact information by Patti McKenna from Merck Archival Services. Recently, we learned that Merck & Co., Inc. is donating to us 455 medical illustration works created by your uncle, Paul Peck. We are so excited and honored . . .
I understand that you are currently living in Madison, WI. Would you be open to meeting in Madison sometime soon to help me learn more about Paul
Since Paul was not my uncle and I was then living 1,000 miles from Madison, I suggested we begin with a phone call. We had a lively conversation; among other things I explained how I’d made the acquaintance of Patti McKenna at Merck Archival Services.
To do that for you we need to take a long step back in time. My grandparents arrived in the U.S. early in the 20th century; I often heard or overheard news about my various cousins, including the Pecks, and fyi there was a sense in which the Pecks were exceptional. The only three paintings I remember from my mother’s sister’s home were all by Paul or Willy, Paul’s older brother who was also an artist.
Jump ahead to 1973, my brother Lee went on a trip abroad that included a visit to Paul and his wife in Scotland. Lee returned home with a partially completed painting of Paul’s, a letter from Paul to his friend Joe asking that he add to the painting, and an inscribed copy of Medical Profiles, an atlas of medical illustrations “by the eminent artist Paul Peck” that was commissioned in 1959 by Merck, Sharp & Dohme. The painting, letter and that copy of the atlas are all here.
I’d like to read excerpts from Paul’s letter to Joe:
I would appreciate it very much if you could add to this unfinished painting just one feature – an apple, partly eaten as though two people had each taken a bite out of it. As you may guess this will be symbolic of the Garden of Eden and the whole painting, which I will call ”Paradise Lost”, would show the snake and the apple as though they had been excavated. When I started to paint the snake I did not have this idea in mind, so I left no real space for the apple but since losing my eyesight . . .”,
and Paul continues, he decided to turn it into “an allegorical scene.” He offers more detail about his artistic vision and concludes saying he expects to be in NY in the fall and will be in touch then.
And then life happens. As I recall, part of my brother’s charge was to locate Joe, something it turned out he was unable to do, and Paul did not travel to NY later in ’73 or any time thereafter I know of. The snake painting remained in my parents’ attic until after my beloved mother passed in 1989. At that point I became the keeper of this unusual painting-in-progress.
Next jump is to 2011 when I became adjunct faculty in Preventive Medicine at New Jersey Medical School. I’d been introduced to the then director of the philanthropic arm of Merck because we shared interest in the intersection of food and food systems and public health. I was invited to submit a major research proposal and we received initial funding from Merck. In 2014, when funding ended, I relocated to Madison. Paul’s painting moved with me.
I’d long been aware that the painting deserved a better home. And then it hit me. Paul’s artwork for Medical Profiles was commissioned by Merck, so presumably Merck holds the originals; Merck might want the painting as a companion piece. I reached out to former Merck contacts and was eventually led to Patti McKenna at Merck Archival Services, the woman John named in his initial email to me. On a trip back to NJ, I brought the painting with me and on a sunny spring afternoon, Patti and I meet in a bank parking lot and I give her both the painting and letter. Not to underrate myself, but I doubt I’d have thought creatively enough to contact the producer/publisher of Medical Profiles, aka Merck, regarding Paul’s art if I hadn’t had the nudge of my earlier professional connection with the company. So, the painting found its better home as a wholly unexpected benefit of the Merck award I’d received. Well, I’d facilitated my brother gifting to Merck the painting that Paul had entrusted to him so many years ago and it felt good that life had enabled me to bring elegant closure to a chapter that began in 1973.
And John’s email is the start of a sequel to the chapter that I thought had closed.
As I mentioned, Paul was not my uncle but I “knew” we were cousins. With the nascent Peck Gallery as impetus, I set out to learn more. I reached out to my cousin whose childhood home was adorned with the Peck brothers’ paintings. One cousin led to another. A younger cousin who’d become interested in genealogy readily told me “Oh yes, because of genealogy-related correspondence I do know of the Pecks, but they’re probably not cousins” and he shares an email he’d received in 2016 from Walter, another cousin:
I learned some years ago, that the now deceased 'Peck' family, Faiga and son William of Brighton Beach, though closer than relatives, were actually good friends that had long ago adopted us. Her other son 'Paul' was a medical artist with a doctor title who resided in Scotland.
By the way, Faiga is the name by which we knew Paul’s mother. It’s Yiddish; her English name was Fanny.)
The family genealogist discovers more. The 1920 U.S. census documents that the Pecks and Glassbergs, the Peck-Glassberg or Glassberg-Peck clan, if you will, were all living in very close proximity on Douglas St, Brooklyn, NY. On census day 1920 the clan consisted of Paul, Willy and their parents, my mother’s parents and her two older sisters (My mother wasn’t yet born.), and my grandfather’s brother, his wife and children. Apart from my mom’s sisters, all the Pecks & Glassbergs of Douglas St, Brooklyn, NY in 1920 were recent immigrants.
Eventually I connect, re-connect, with other descendants of the clan, in particular my cousins Walter and Jesse, Walter’s older brother. It’s probably 50 years, when I was a newly minted teen and Walter and Jesse were in their 30’s, when we’d last spoken. Among living relatives, it’s Jesse and Walter who best recall the Pecks. Here are a few vignettes they shared:
1. Both brothers still remember fondly the knives with pure ebony handles that Paul brought back for them from Central America after WWII. This concurs with the biographical information that you gathered John—that from 1945-46 Paul was a member of a pathological investigation unit of the Army Institute of pathology studying tropical diseases in Central America.
2. Both brothers spoke of a particular physician their father went to. They both remember hearing from their dad that the doctor was very impressed when their father told him that he was related to Paul Peck.
3. Here’s a fun anecdote: Jesse remembers that Paul gave a lecture at a southern university; John and I wonder if it was Vanderbilt since we know that Paul’s art was exhibited at there and John tells me that Paul gave a speech there in 1969. In any event, Jesse recalls that Paul told him that the talk was also televised and after the talk there was a knock on the door and in walked VP Agnew and asked Paul for his autograph.
We’re up to the last chapter, at least, so far. Here’s a final story-within-the-story. As a child I adored my grandma. I’ve begun wondering what her life was like on Douglas St. back in the 19-teens and -‘20’s, when Paul and Willy and my mother’s older sisters were growing up. I’d always known that one of my grandma’s early, and most prized acquisitions upon arriving in America was her baking board, a beautiful paddle, certainly large enough to make pizza. As a child there was always a bowlful of rugelakh waiting when we visited. Now making rugelakh is fun, time-consuming, and painstaking and my grandma would enlist helpers; she started me young. As I try to imagine Douglas St. in Faiga, Paul’s mother, and my grandmother’s day, I see my grandma and her close people, which would include Faiga, patck-kee-ing, that’s Yiddish for making a big to-do, in the kitchen baking rugelakh. I’ve inherited the baking board and after a fashion we reincarnated that scene yesterday. A friend of mine and I, my daughter and her daughters and their friends baked rugelakh; some are out front for sampling.
I’m delighted to be here, to finally meet you John, to have the opportunity to meet you Alan and Sarah. I’ll report back to the rest of the family. It does feel that the skeletal snake has found its proper home.