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4 "Sophie's Soul Food" by Sherrill Pool Elizondo

"I never thought that I would succumb to tears just watching a cooking show like the Frugal Gourmet which aired on television many years ago. I was peacefully indulging myself with the Sunday newspaper and a cup of coffee when my husband turned on the show. As is his habit, he was switching from channel to channel with the remote control. I only peered over my reading glasses on occasion when a travel, fishing, house renovation, or gardening show broke my concentration as I tried to get through the newspaper before the then three teenaged sons interrupted my peace and quiet.

Many times this cooking show presented special ethnic dishes and I would watch for a while even though I was tired of cooking after trying to please an all male household for so many years. For a man who mostly cooks decent scrambled eggs and sometimes barbecues, it intrigued me to witness my husband's interest in cooking shows. This chef held particular interest to us because he incorporated facets of history, travel, and ethnic cultures into all of the cooking he did on the show. This particular morning the program was about Jewish cooking.

My relationship and love of good Jewish recipes goes back to my childhood. Though not reared in the Jewish faith (a whole other story), my mother and her mother and all of that side of the family were Jewish. I was very close to Gram. Her name was Sophie and she was a marvelous lady. She was a character who said exactly what she thought, had her little red suitcase packed at a moment's notice at the mere mention of the word "trip," and loved fish so much that she would eat ANY leftover fish for breakfast if she got the chance. If there really is such a thing as the quintessential Jewish mother or grandmother, she definitely was one. She departed this earth when I was a teenager but I think of her often and the good food she cooked and the love and attention she extended to family (including that little Protestant girl...me.) I called her on the phone so much that I still to this day remember her phone number. It was in her home that I watched the preparation of certain dishes and learned to eat foods like Matzo Ball Soup, Kreplach, Tsimis, Cholent or baked specialties like Mandl Bread to name just a few. I saw that Gram kept chicken fat (smaltz) in a jar in the refrigerator to be used when she cooked chopped onions to prepare something like chopped liver. Other interesting jars held Gefilte fish or big kosher pickles. On my trips to her house alone as a young girl I was always happy to be with Gram just sitting at her table with a ginger ale and a kosher salami sandwich. As I grew older, I came to realize how lucky I was to be able to partake of a Passover Seder as well as celebrate Easter with my immediate family. I never really felt confusion as some would think being in a blended family.

Not a spring arrives that I don't think of Gram in her kitchen in San Antonio preparing for this special religious meal, or smell the delicious aromas, or feel the warm breezes drifting in from the open windows, or recall all that love she gave and how happy she seemed to be cooking for the large extended family. My mother and other members of the family added their own special culinary legacies, but it was Gram who was the heart of the family in those years on those special occasions. As with most families, no matter what their background, food and love often seem to go together. My husband now refers to our visits to a favorite deli, as going to get our "Jewish Soul Food" fix. There we can share a bowl of Matzo Ball Soup and other goodies and I do not go to all the work that my Gram did in her kitchen. I only manage to cook big crepe-like pancakes like she used to fix for a special treat during her visits to our home when I was a child. She referred to them as French Pancakes. My Mom claimed that the ones she made, unlike Gram's, always cracked! My hungry sons would eat the ones I fixed even if they did crack sometimes. One son, when he was away in college, called me early on for the recipe and the tradition keeps going. I have prepared Potato Latkes but not often. A few times I tackled (once in tears as a newly wed working with the yeast!) a coffee cake that was handed down for generations and is like a state secret in our family. Bragging rights are yours if you prepare it correctly!

I was tearful as I watched that program because I knew how much I still missed Gram/Sophie. The food was just a reminder. When I was very very young and forgot to say "thank you" to Gram, my mother would always remind me but Gram would say: "She thanked me with her eyes!" I hope she knows that I am still thanking her."

4 comments:

said...

That story warms my heart! We all have special grandmother memories but few of us can put it into such creative story telling as you Sherrill....XOXOXO thanks for sharing!! Love your "jazzercise neighbor

said...

jazzercise neighbor(am wondering who you are!), Thank you for the kind words. They are much appreciated by me! I have received emails from friends with some wonderful stories about their own grandmothers recently! Everyone has a story about someone in their life! Love, S.

said...

Now I'm hungry Sherrill...great job!

said...

Thanks! Well, I am not hungry anymore, after two Jazzercise workouts this morning, I had an early lunch!



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