Ida Goldberg Breibart....Mama
By the Editor
(With Help from Sidney)
Sidney recently suggested to me that I watch a PBS cooking show, "Somewhere South," that featured Charleston and Savannah cooks and their restaurants serving mostly crab, shrimp, and pork dishes. He added, tongue in cheek, "Mama never cooked like that."
Right. So what did Mama spend long hours in the tiny kitchen cooking for a husband and five kids who were spaced out over 17 years.
She cooked probably what most Jewish women at the time in Charleston cooked, women who were first generation immigrants from Eastern Europe. But with her own touches. There were no cookbooks in the house, no magazines with recipes. She was on her own.
She fixed most of the Jewish staples like stuffed cabbage, kugels, boiled and roasted chicken, chopped chicken liver, beet borsht, matza ball soup, lokshen (noodle) soup, kneidlach (dumplings) and brisket.
There were meat dishes (fleischig) and milk dishes (milchig) and never the twain did meet. And then there were pareve ingredients which could go either way like eggs, vegetables, fish, grains, sort of like a switch-hitter in baseball.
During the years of my awareness, the whole family seldom ate together except on Passover and Rosh Hashanah. Mama usually had to spread dinner (the noonish meal) over shifts. When I was in high school and Sidney in college it would go something like this: Papa would eat around noon. He would then go down to the store and George would come up for dinner. Mama usually sat in with Papa and George. Then Sidney and I would probably arrive at different hours from 2 to 3. Mickey and Solly were out of the house by then, but George was at the store every day and would eat dinner upstairs. When Mickey and Solly were home, I don't remember how the shifts went. But I'm sure the shifts existed.
There were a couple of dishes that probably were Mama's inventions, meat simmered in a ginger snap and onion gravy and canned salmon scrambled with egg and onion. I've tried to duplicate the meat dish, which is similar to sauerbraten, and I came close, but it was not the real thing. (My recipe: sweat a lot, I mean a a lot, of onions in a can of beef broth until the onions are soft, brown about a pound of stew meat in a separate pan, then add the meat, a shake of vinegar, a couple pinches of clove, three or four crisp ginger snaps crushed and some garlic to the onion broth. Stick in a 350 oven and let simmer until meat is tender, about an hour or so).
One of my favorite dinners, besides the meat in ginger snap gravy, was hot dogs, French fries or Heinz baked beans, and sauerkraut.
As for vegetables, we were way in front of the "seasonal fresh from the farm" curve. In the summer we ate fresh corn, snap beans (green beans), sivy beans (fresh small lima beans), squash, peaches, watermelons, cantaloupes, which came mostly from the farms on James and John's islands. In the winter, most of the vegetables came from cans. I don't remember having Southern-style greens like collards and turnips although they were sold in the store. Never an avocado. White asparagus came in jars which had an ashy taste to me.
There was, of course, gefilte fish, which was made from scratch with fish processed through an old grinder which was attached to a table in the kitchen. In later years, Mom said to hell with all that work and we had gefilte fish from jars. Occasionally, and on Fridays, we would have fried fish (maybe whitings) which Papa brought home from the big fish place on Market St. and cleaned himself. Not sure why we had to eat fish on Friday like the Catholics did, but may be it was in solidarity of the many Catholic customers the store had.
Papa also always kept the ice box (refrigerator) stocked with delicatessen from the upper King St. Mazos. Vouch (salami), corned beef, pastrami, white fish, pickled herring, barrel pickles. These usually were eaten for supper in some form or other. Another supper offering was Franco American spaghetti from a can, with a side of scrambled eggs. Yes, Franco American spaghetti.
For a while Mama made her own pickles, which cured in a huge jar in the pantry next to the bathroom. There was also a little wine making at one time in the pantry.
Papa's culinary contribution was shav, a cold spinach soup, a jar of which was kept in the refrigerator. Delicious with hard-boiled eggs crumbled into it.
One peculiarity of our eating was that we ate everything separately, not putting more than one item on the plate. Chicken now, then the snap beans and rice mixed together, then the corn for instance.
Deserts were mainly fresh fruits in summer and often cans of fruit cocktails with a cherry in the winter. Mama sometimes made a strawberry short cake and did a good bit of baking. Sidney remembers a cheese Danish that she baked when she hosted the ladies' penny poker game. There were also oatmeal cookies and a sticky concoction with corn flakes, syrup, coconut and nuts. I don't recall anything with chocolate, but that doesn't mean there was no chocolate.
While Mama cooked a lot of the traditional Jewish dishes, I don't remember her making kishkeh, considered by some a delicacy, by others yuk. Basically kishkeh is the innards of a cow stuffed with ingredients, sewn at both ends and boiled. I think she did us a favor.
In another deviation from the Jewish canon,
Mama mostly used Crisco, which was pareve, for frying rather than the traditional
schmaltz, chicken fat. As a result, her French fries and fried chicken were
perfectly crisp. When Proctor and Gamble introduced Crisco, made with vegetable
oil, to Jewish Cuisine, it quoted a rabbi in it's promotional material who
said, "Hebrews have been waiting 4,000 years for this."