Sunday, August 5, 2012


I remember my fat Aunt Celia running down Clinton Place to hide at my mother’s house because Staten Island’s one kosher butcher had been somehow unmasked as trafedickeh, and a fraud -- Aunt Celia, who was fearless, who had hidden in haystacks as a child and saw the Cossacks cut off women's breasts and throw babies in the air to catch them on their swords, Aunt Celia, who could pickle herrings and cucumbers and green tomatos in brine you could float an egg on,  and ferment, fry, boil, bake, make slivovits and cherry brandy that burned your throat and kept forever, twist the braid on a challah and make it shine, and shamed us all in her zeal to live as a blameless Jewish woman who kept the laws of kashruth in a strange land -- this Aunt Celia secretly bought her meat in the A and P and told her husband, Uncle Abe, that it was kosher, and ran now to her non-kosher sister-in-law, my mother, from whom she often cadged a ham sandwich and pretended that she didn’t quite know what it was, seeking solace and sanctuary, for she was about to be unmasked!

Yes, food was the drama and the joy of my childhood, food was my soft, chewy mother and my gristly, tough father, and my annoying little sister who was always there when you didn’t want her, like the strings of meat between your teeth.
Why shouldn’t  I write about that, then, while I’m waiting for this agent or that agent to stop telling me yes, I can write (“I loved your book, I really did.  I read it to the last page – but I can’t sell it.  In fact, I no longer represent fiction.”)?  I daren’t say anything about the state of  publishing, or how worried I am that books in covers, which is the definition of books in my world, are already lost to the cold breezes of the internet, and instead turn to something that is still the consuming – and that’s not a pun – pleasure of my life: great food.

I even like not-so-great food on occasion, as everybody does, if they confessed it.  That same Aunt Celia wouldn’t take the time, or maybe couldn’t afford to make real blintzes with sour cream and butter and powdered sugar and cherry jam, so she dipped  sandwiches of plain pot cheese and Uneeda biscuits into beaten eggs, fried them in fat and sprinkled them with cinnamon.  They were delicious.

So maybe I could write about my Aunt Celia, and my mother, who was a prodigious cook, so prodigious that nobody ever invited us to dinner, only came to our house to sample her roast beef and pork chops with sauerkraut and chicken and rice -- oh, and her potato salad.  If there's a heaven and I ever get there, I'm going to ask for that potato salad!  And I could write about my Uncle Mathew, my Greek uncle who would bring halumi cheese in one pocket and stuffed cabbage in the other -- in suitable containers of course -- and who taught me to eat sheep's head including brains and eyes, and lots of other things.  It was an eating family, never rich, but never hungry.

It's more fun than fiction.  What do you think?



Anonymous said...

As someone who has enjoyed many great meals with Rose this last year while I was in NYC on a temporary job, I can certainly attest to her love for good food!

I really enjoyed this story about Aunt Celia!

I'll pass on Uncle Mathew serving up Sheep's Head with Brains and Eyes though!

Fun read Rose!

David Goldemberg

Michael Murphy said...

Interesting read. I had to google trafedickeh, Cossacks, kashruth, cadged and halumi cheese. Google didn't have a response for trafedickeh other than your writing.