Thursday, January 21, 2010

Treats and Traditions, Part 2

Another memorable treat from my childhood was Sunday lunch at a kosher deli in Nashville, TN. When I was five, Dad’s work as an engineer for DuPont took us to Columbia, TN, a small town south of Nashville. After a couple of years, I told Mom and Dad of my friends’ efforts to get me to attend their Baptist church on Sunday. Because of this, my parents, who were basically non-religious, decided to take me to the Unitarian church in Nashville to attend Sunday school. The Unitarians they had met seemed as open and liberal as they were, and this would give me a religious education. So every Sunday morning we drove the 50 miles to the church in Nashville, and every Sunday afternoon we drove the 50 miles back to Columbia. But for lunch, we always stopped at Mr. Ken’s delicatessen for a hot pastrami sandwich with a dill pickle. Looking forward to that delicious lunch always made sitting through the Unitarian Sunday school at least bearable.

My Dad did some of the cooking for our family but mostly for weekend breakfasts. He established a tradition in our family of always cooking pancakes or waffles on Saturday morning and matzo brie on Sunday mornings. For those who are not familiar with this staple of Jewish cuisine, matzo brie is made with matzo softened with boiling water and then fried with scrambled eggs and lots of salt and pepper. He would even make this for Sunday breakfast when we went camping using his pocket handkerchief to strain the matzo. (The tradition of pancakes or waffles and matzo brie is one that tradition I continued in my family for a while until the matzo brie began to taste like soggy cardboard, at which point we moved on to other breakfast traditions.)

One other tradition we had in my family was an open-face onion sandwich we would share, usually when we were watching television at night. If we had a rye bread in the house (and I mean a real rye bread from a bakery, not the prepackaged kind), Dad would slice a couple of thin slices and slather them with butter. Then, he’d slice some very thin slices of regular yellow onions to put on the buttered rye bread. Finally a sprinkle of salt and, viola, a delicious snack guaranteed to give you heartburn.

There was the occasional culinary tragedy in our family as well, aside from Mom’s experimenting with James Beard and other chef’s cookbooks. One Thanksgiving when I was a teenager, we traveled from our home outside of Philadelphia to Bethesda, Maryland, to have dinner with my Uncle Milton’s family. Mom had been asked to bring some pies for desert, so she brought her famous apple pie, along with a pecan pie and a cherry pie. Most of the family chose the apple pie and some chose the pecan pie, but I was the first to have a big slice of the cherry pie. With my first big bite, I almost choked and had to spit out the mouthful. It was horrible. Others tasted it and agreed. But we couldn’t understand what could have caused it. We found out later that it was because Mom kept the sugar, flour, and salt in the kitchen in similar glass containers on the counter. In her haste to make the pies, she had used a cup of salt instead of a cup of sugar for the cherry pie. I didn’t use salt on my food for quite a while after that.

Despite the occasional mistake, Mom was a wonderful cook, and I am indebted to her for teaching me to cook. When I finally had my own apartment in college, she typed up and sent me the recipes for my favorite of her dishes as well as some other staples. Those recipes served me well for the many years that I lived by myself.

Paul W.

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