Thursday, May 13, 2010

Miriam's Kitchen by Elizabeth Ehrlich 1997

"The foods we eat and the ways in which we prepare them are among the strongest and most enduring expressions of our culture. They bind child to mother, mother to family, and families to the traditions that define nations." From a review by Peter Kaminsky of Miriam's Kitchen from the New York Times, 10/19/97.

This is a memoir rich in Yiddish phrases, traditions, religious practice and recipes. In this memoir Elizabeth Ehrlich explores her ties to the Jewish religion, recounting her childhood in Detroit and examining the life she is currently living. She would like her life as well as her family life to be more religiously observant.

She is drawn to her mother-in-law Miriam who is both religiously observant and a superb cook of traditional Jewish foods. Miriam, a Holocaust survivor, as a tribute to the memory of her mother , makes cooking the Polish-Jewish recipes of her mother central to her life. Elizabeth Ehrlich becomes her mother-in-law's student in all things Jewish – her cooking as well her religious practice. 

The memoir details one year in Ehrlich’s life, starting in September when it is time to prepare for the Jewish New Year. Each chapter represents a month and within each chapter Ehrlich talks about her own evolving religious practice and what she learns as she observes her mother-in-law’s labors of love in the kitchen.  Interspersed with the cooking instructions from her mother-in-law Ehrlich includes passages about what Miriam tells her about her life in Poland during World War II. The food preparation in the present throws into relief the Holocaust, ostensibly in the past, but very much a part of the daily life of this family. The food is a connection to that lost past.

Although most of the focus of this memoir is on Miriam’s cooking, Ehrlich also includes the traditions in her own family and remembers well her father’s mother – her Brooklyn grandmother - and the traditional foods she prepared for Jewish holidays they spent with her.

 Note to genealogists: The author seems to have taken some care to guard the privacy of those mentioned in this memoir.  For example, she rarely fills in a last name, though there are some clues given in her acknowledgments: Ehrlich is  her maiden name, Stocker is her mother's maiden name. Potok is her husband's family's name.

If you'd like to read an interesting article about how important the Settlement Cook Book was to Jewish immigrants in the first half of the twentieth century, that was originally broadcast on National Public Radio, click here.

Rivke – Miriam’s mother
Sesha– Rivke’s sister
Pola – Rivke’s sister
     Miriam – Rivke's daughter; author’s mother-in-law
     Jacob Ehrlich– Miriams' husband; author’s father-in-law

Author’s mother’s family
Libe Beyle – author’s mother’s grandmother
            Zalman – author’s mother’s grandfather
            Malke Feltsman- author’s mother’s mother
                        Lazar – their son; author’s grandfather
                        Sol – Zalman’s nephew; author’s great uncle
Mary Brown Glassman- author’s great grandmother
Zalman Glassman – author’s great grandfather – married Mary Brown
Yankele Brown – Mary’s brother
            Isadore – author’s brother
            Cheryl – author’s sister

Author’s father’s family
Rivka Blume – his father’s grandmother
Moses – father’s grandfather
            Isaac – his father’s father
            Chaya Kusher ( Irene) – his father’s mother
                        Edward – her son; author’s father
                        Selina – her daughter; married Charles MacIntyre
                        Millie – her daughter
            Dora; sister to Irene
                        Sylvia – Dora’s daughter

Shott, Lithuania
Chestochowa – concentration camp
Detroit, Michigan
Brooklyn, NY

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