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Connections: Kitchen Memories

Wed, 04/08/2020 - 17:39

Passover week found me leafing through a big file folder of my mother’s old recipes, along with a few cook-booklets from days gone by. My goodness, what a time capsule she had squirreled away.

One booklet, published by the B. Manischewitz Co. (of Concord-grape wine and matzoh fame), can be read from back to front as well as front to back: That is because the back half of the book is printed in Hebrew. Another, called “Home on the Range,” is a compendium of recipes and household hints handwritten and illustrated by members of Bayonne Senior Hadassah, of which my mother was a member after I had grown up and left New Jersey, but before she and my father moved to Florida.

The prize, however, is also a Hadassah publication, stuffed with recipes clipped from newspapers and the sides of food cartons, and recipes on index cards (remember them?). There are recipes are for noodle puddings, cheesecakes, blintzes, Jello molds, rugelach, and, much to my surprise, hamantaschen, the triangular prune or apricot-filled pastry made for the Jewish holiday of Purim.

I always thought my mother was an unimaginative cook — that the foods my brother and I were brought up on were dull as dishwater, and that it was my grandmother who made the good chicken soup for which we were grateful. But in this old folder are recipes in my mother’s handwriting for all sorts of midcentury-American delights, such as spinach and carrot souffles, as well as for chopped liver, for which she went all out, sauteeing onion, green pepper, celery, parsley, and hard-boiled eggs.

Searching my memory, however, there is one spectacular dish my mother found the time to make that isn’t in any of the booklets or on any of the index cards. On special occasions, events when she was hostess to a group of friends or, perhaps, mahjong players, she made what you might call a country-kitchen Napoleon. She ordered a white bread from a local bakery and had it sliced horizontally rather than vertically, then spread egg salad, chicken salad, and cream cheese with parsley or scallions on separate layers. My brother and I loved it.

The Hadassah cookbook tells another story in a clipping from The East Hampton Star of Aug. 30, 1973. Around that time, The Star had discovered a food writer named Florence Fabricant, who contributed a column we called “In Season.” As many readers will know, Florence has gone on to become a prominent New York Times food writer and personality. The 1973 column is titled “Swordfish: Nothing Fishy” and calls for dousing a swordfish steak in a number of expected ingredients and serving it with a sauce combining anchovy paste with sour cream, white wine, and lemon juice.

In tangentially related — and perhaps equally sentimental — foodie news, this week marks the release of “The Ladies Village Improvement Society Cookbook: Eating and Entertaining in East Hampton,” published by Rizzoli and written by, who else?, Florence Fabricant. It includes many tempting recipes from all stripes of locals, from teachers to television stars, although I do not see any swordfish with creamed anchovy. This is not the first cookbook from the L.V.I.S., of course; it is, well . . . I’m not sure, but one of more than a dozen over the last 120 years. I’m told that copies are available for purchase directly from the L.V.I.S., as well as from your local booksellers.

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