From Estee’s newsletter- I am not going to write a letter this week. Rather, I am going to share with you the work of a fellow author for Mishpacha Magazine, Esther Sender.
It says so much about food writers like me, who write recipes and share them with our readers, and that’s what it’s all about: sharing them with YOU. I was making kishke last week, adding the oil, and thinking how every time I make kishke I think of our old neighbors, the Wolpins.
I see Mrs. Wolpin giving me the recipe in her kitchen. The big chart of chores and good deeds filled with colored stars, held to the refrigerator door with magnets, which waved when she opened the fridge to get out a big glass jar filled with homemade horseradish. And I remember thinking, Wow, she makes her own chrein.
She gave me the recipe for that, too.
We haven’t seen or heard from each other in over 20 years, yet she’s with me in my kitchen every week.
And I think how every time we make a recipe that someone shared with us, they’re actually with us.
My father is with me every time I make grilled cheese in a frying pan and butter both sides of the bread.
My grandmother is with me when I make chocolate cake, which is actually interesting because I was too young to get her recipe, yet somehow it comes out tasting exactly how I remember hers.
Aviva visits me when I make apple crisps. And the list goes on.
Even attempts at recipes have the giver revisit.
There was once a boy from Mexico, a convert. He came to live in Israel. While he was here, all alone in the country, he got very ill. We happened to find out about him, and since he was staying across the street in a guesthouse that houses people while they get treatment, we helped him with some food, at least soup, since he couldn’t really eat anything else.
After a month of being all alone, his mother came from Mexico to take care of him. She couldn’t speak a word of English or Hebrew, but she still came.
They stayed across the street in the guesthouse for another month or so.
One day I came to visit and saw her making tortillas from scratch.
I stood back for a second and just watched, thinking, Here she is, a woman all the way from the back woods of Mexico rolling tortillas in Israel with all her heart for her son who is now a Jew.
I asked for her recipe in what little Spanish I remembered, and she told it to me in rapid-fire Spanish, and I listened and watched, though I knew I’d never roll my own tortillas. But every time we bring home one of those vacuum-packed bags of ready-made tortillas, I see her.
And her brave son.
We were blessed to make a seudah of thanksgiving when the boy got his clean bill of health. His mother and the rav and ten other Spanish-speaking boys from his yeshivah came to celebrate.
The rav spoke so his mother would get nachas from him, and she gave me a small gold box with a thank-you note inside. And before she left the next day for Mexico she asked me for my recipe for potato kugel.
As she was leaving I thought about how I would now go with her, somewhere in Mexico, and how she would think about me, and my family, and Israel, and the Jewish People while she made potato kugel in her Mexican kitchen.
There’s a story I heard about a woman during the Holocaust who sacrificed her safety to write a book of all her family’s recipes.
I heard about this story years and years ago and at that time I didn’t exactly understand what drove her to risk safety for a recipe.
When I understand that every time I make someone’s recipe, they are with me.
— Concentric Circles by Esther Sender was reprinted with permission from Mishpacha Magazine, December 2014