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December 20, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Yesterday’s Mavens, Today’s Foodies: latkes, you’ll eat!

I moved to Seattle in 1988, and still recall that whenever I needed a taste of “home”– chicken soup with matzoh balls, a plate of blintzes — I’d frequent the deli-restaurant Matzoh Momma, late of Capitol Hill. The name lives on as Matzoh Momma Catering, with owners Pip and Miriam Meyerson presiding. From mitzvahs to mourning, feeding the needs of the community is all part of their “Jewish-lifecycle business,” as they define it.

Happily, the Meyersons have been the driving force behind the annual Night of a Thousand Latkes, a Hanukkah fundraiser for MAZON, a Jewish agency providing hunger-relief for people of all faiths and backgrounds. Sadly, they won’t be holding the event this year due to the recent passing of Miriam’s mother.

As for those latkes, enjoyed year-round but especially at Hanukkah — the eight-day Festival of Lights that began Dec. 20 at sundown — “You’ve got to eat them while they’re hot!” they implored, welcoming me into their home to watch as Pip fried his potato pancakes and Miriam garnished the goods with sour cream and applesauce (you’ll find that recipe here).

They made ’em, I ate ’em. Latkes, with sour cream and homemade Honeycrisp applesauce.

[Seattle Times/Greg Gilbert]

“Oil temperature is critical. Do a little drop-test first,” Pip instructs, adding a smidgen of batter, which crisped up quickly. “And salt them after,” he says, generously sprinkling the end result. “Eat!” Having never before officially met the Meyersons, I immediately felt as if they were family.

That sense of familial embrace extends to “Yesterday’s Mavens, Today’s Foodies: Traditions in Northwest Jewish Kitchens,” a community cookbook published in November by the Washington State Jewish Historical Society. Among its 250 recipes are Miriam’s mother’s hamantachen (a tri-cornered pastry) and Pip’s justly famous latkes.

Matzoh Momma’s latke mavens, Miriam and Pip Meyerson, at home on Capitol Hill [Seattle Times/Greg Gilbert]

In it, I found other foods I loved, growing up in a predominantly Jewish East Coast neighborhood. Like contributor Edie Bean’s prakas (stuffed cabbage, sweetened like my mother’s). And Marjorie Danz’s kamishbrot, a cookie recipe treasured because it’s written in her mother’s hand (my own kamishbrot recipe is handwritten by my grandmother).

Bubba Lil’s kamishbrot recipe. She loved to eat, sing, and sit up in bed late at night and watch movie musicals with her “First Million Bucks” (that would be me, her first grandchild). [photo: Nancy Leson]

As I wrote in the book’s foreword — penned as a favor to my friend Cindy Masin, who helped cook-up the idea, bring it to fruition and (yes!) included her fabulous bagel recipe:

“I was astonished to find a whole new world of dishes here I’d never tasted on my bubbie’s table. (North African chicken with fennel and figs? Pass me a thigh!) Sure, this corner of the nation doesn’t have the depth and breadth of the dreamy deli fare I was raised on, but it does have gefilte fish (homemade!) with fresh salmon, and did I mention Matzo Roca?”

This hardcover edition ($36, available here) conjures images that will be familiar to Jews the world over but holds particularly significance for those who call Seattle home. Its very personal stories recall some of the area’s earliest Jewish settlers, whose recipes have been passed down by family born as near as Mercer Island and as far as the island of Rhodes.

Seattle’s Jewish community — Ashkenazis, Sephardim, the whole mishpocha — pitched in to bring their stories and recipes to light for generations to come.

Arlene Mosler Schuster offers the story behind her hearty whole-wheat bread, made with Cook’s Vanilla Powder– an ingredient her grandfather, Sam Mosler, surely never knew when he opened Seattle’s New York Bakery on Jackson Street in 1899.

“As I write out this recipe” for chopped liver pâté, “I think of my grandmother sitting on a kitchen chair with a wooden bowl on her lap and a small chopping blade doing what my Cuisinart does for me today,” writes Molly Cone, whose prowess in the kitchen inspired her granddaughter Dani Cone, the maven behind the Seattle bakeshop, High 5 Pie.

It’s been 50 years since a friend from Cleveland shared a recipe for carrot souffle with Seattle philanthropist Becky Benaroya, who shares her Thanksgiving standby in this book. And it’s been 50 years since I tasted my first “kiggle,” my family’s pronunciation of kugel, the baked noodle dish well-represented in “Yesterday’s Mavens, Today’s Foodies.”

I laughed out loud when I read about “Chickie’s Kiggle,” a sour-creamed sensation submitted by Seattle newcomer Marc Jacobson, winner of the local Great Kugel Throwdown last spring. Aunt Chickie (born Violet Feldman), “endured more than her share of tragedies and still remained to her dying day, a loving, caring, giving, real pistol of a woman. Such a dirty sense of humor, too, for a nice Jewish lady from Northeast Philadelphia.”

Which, funny he should mention it, is where I grew up eating kiggle.

So, have you got any latke-making tips, stories about your bubbie, your great aunt’s borekas or tales of Jewish life lived in and around Seattle? You’ll share! And in case this post left you longing for latkes, here, fresh from my kitchen, is a little music for your ears:

Comments | More in Cookbooks, Holidays | Topics: Family tales


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