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Memories of Real Jewish Cooking
from Lloyd Rubin
Where is that cooking now?
I'm talking about the lack of good old, down-home Jewish cooking in
our homes. I am taking it upon myself to help out all you frantic
housewives out there, with wonderful menus that will lead your
children to a healthy, happy, and loving family unit as I knew it in
First, go down to Filene's basement (A & S or Alexander's for New
Yorkers or Carson's for Chicagoans), buy a housecoat (schmata), and
wear it all day, every day. Then go out and buy a live chicken,
carry it wrapped in a newspaper to the Shoichet (ritual slaughterer)
who will slaughter it before your very eyes (some live markets had a
Schoichet in residence as well as chicken flickers). When you get it
home, flick your chicken and make sure you don't leave in any
pinchus (feather ends).
Next, go out and buy a four-foot-long carp with huge whiskers. Fill
your bathtub with water and let the fish swim in it for several
In the meantime, roll up your Berber broadloom, and remove it from
the living room, polish the hardwood floors, cover them in
newspaper, cover your couch in clear plastic, or floral slip covers,
and don't let anyone in your living room again .unless they are
Now you're a real "BALABUSTA," which is a term of respect used for
an efficient Jewish housewife, and the essence of your universe is
in the kitchen. So get out your wooden matches, light the pilot
light, get out the volgar holtz (wooden bowl), hock the tzibbeles
(onions) and knubble (garlic), and we're Jewish again.
Before we start, however, there are some variations in ingredients
because of the various types of Jewish taste (Polack, Litvack and
Just as we Jews have six seasons of the year (winter, spring,
summer, fall, the slack season, and the busy season), we all focus
on a main ingredient which unfortunately, and undeservedly, has
disappeared from our diet.
I'm talking, of course, about SCHMALTZ (chicken fat). SCHMALTZ has
for centuries been the prime ingredient in almost every Jewish dish,
and I feel it's time to revive it to its rightful place in our
homes. (I have plans to distribute it in a green glass Gucci bottle
with a label clearly saying.....low fat, no cholesterol, Newman's
Choice, extra virgin SCHMALTZ. (It can't miss!)
Let's start, of course, with the "forshpeiz" (appetizer). Gehockteh
leiber (chopped liver) with SCHMALTZ is always good, but how about
something more exotic for your dear ones, like boiled whitefish in
yoyech (soup) which sets into a jelly form, or "gefilteh miltz"
(stuffed spleen), in which the veins are removed, thank G-d, and it
is fried in, you guessed it, SCHMALTZ, bread crumbs, eggs, onions,
salt and pepper. Love it!
How about stewed lingen (lungs) -- very chewy, or gehenen (brains)
-- very slimy. Am I making your mouth water yet? Then there are
greebenes -- pieces of chicken skin, deep fried in SCHMALTZ, onions
and salt until crispy brown (Jewish bacon ). This makes a great
appetizer for the next cardiologist's convention.
Another favorite, and I'm sure your children will love it, is
pe'tcha (jellied calves feet). Simply chop up some cows' feet with
you hockmesser (handl-chopper), add some meat, onions, lots of
garlic, SCHMALTZ again, salt and pepper, cook for five hours and let
it sit overnight. You might want to serve it with oat bran and
bananas for an interesting breakfast (just joking ).
There's also a nice chicken fricassee (stew) using the heart, gorgle
(neck), pipick (a great delicacy, given to the favorite child,
usually me), a fleegle (wing) or two, some ayelech (little premature
eggs) and other various chicken innards, in a broth of SCHMALTZ,
water, paprika, etc.
We also have knishes (filled dough) and the eternal question "Will
that be liver, beef or potatoes or all three?". There also might be
Other time-tested favorites are kishkeh, and its poor cousin, helzel
(chicken or goose neck). Kishkeh is the gut of the cow, bought by
the foot at the Kosher butcher. It is turned inside out, scalded
and scraped. One end is sewn up and a mixture of flour, SCHMALTZ,
onions, eggs, salt, pepper, etc., is spooned into the open end and
squished down until it is full, the other end is sewn and the whole
thing is boiled. Yummy!
My personal all-time favorite is watching my Zaida (grandpa) munch
on boiled chicken feet. Try that on the kinderlach (children)
tomorrow. For our next course we always had chicken soup with pieces
of yellow-white, rubbery chicken skin floating in a greasy sea of
lokshen (noodles), farfel (broken bits of matzah), arbiss
(chickpeas), lima beans, pietrishkeh, tzibbeles (onions), mondlech
(soup nuts), kneidlach (dumplings), kasha, (groats) kliskelech and
marech (marrow bones).
The main course, as I recall, was either boiled chicken, flanken,
kackletten (hockfleish-chopped meat), and sometimes rib steaks which
were served either well done, burned or cremated. Occasionally we
had barbecued liver done to a burned and hardened perfection in our
own coal furnace.
Since we couldn't have milk with our meat meals, beverages consisted
of soda (Kik, Dominion Dry, Doctor Brown's or seltzer in the spritz
bottles) or a glezel tay (glass of hot tea) served in a yohrtzeit
(memorial candle) glass and sucked through a sugar cube held between
Desserts were probably the only things not made with SCHMALTZ, so we
never had any. Momma never learned how to make Schmaltz Jello.
Well, now you know the secret of how I've grown up to be so tall,
sinewy, slim and trim, energetic, extremely clever and modest, and
if you want your children to grow up to be like me, you're gohnsen
meshuggah! (completely nuts!)
ZEI MIR GEZUNT. (go in good health)...and order out
from the August 2003 Edition of the Jewish Magazine