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Rochelle Mass

THE EXACT RECIPE

By Rochelle Mass

[Editors note: Former Winnipegger Rochelle Mass is an award winning poet living in Israel.]

Each year as the Winnipeg sun grew strong
my mother would tell me how her mother made lockshen
how she rolled the long threads up into balls, placed
the tight fists in cotton sacks to be packed by Zaida
in the attic ready for kugel and chicken soup all winter long. 

What was the recipe? I asked when I got married
when suddenly things changed
including how I felt about family history.
The exact recipe – that's what I wanted.
But all my mother could tell me was:  

Babba would drag a sack of flour into the kitchen
place two dozen eggs on the table
a pitcher of water, a cup of salt.  And?  I asked. 
Well, she'd beat the eggs, add the flour –
and salt –  till it was enough.

She'd work the dough in a huge shissel
pour in water till it stiffened. 
For how long?  About ten minutes, maybe more. 
Then she'd grab off a large ball
sprinkle flour on the table and

start rolling, cutting lockshen sized strips.
How wide?
Lockshen wide - mother spread her fingers to about half an inch. 
Babba draped the strips over every chair
cupboard door, every surface:

the ironing board
clothes hangers, chairs, tables, everything - 
till they were dry. 
She'd run her fingers along the dough
as though it were new silk

pulling, stretching ever so gently.

She'd wait, patiently wait
till the summer heat did its work.
My grandmother, in a stained cotton dress
hair pulled into a braid wound and re-wound
on her damp head walked back and forth
stroking the bands of lockshen
that bound the entire house in summer –
those memories fell into new patterns
when I got married. 

I didn't consider making my own lockshen
but I was determined to make everything else
connected with this grandmother –
kreplach, knishes, mandelbroit
even pickled tongue which I never ate. 

I had one recipe for bran muffins
that were never moist.
And here I was planning knishes
with the kind of dough
you pulled with the back of your hand

till it slipped over the sides of the table
till you could see through it
till you could roll it over a filling of potatoes
and fried onions, slice it with the side of your hand
as though it was a knife, then pinch the ends. 

Such a dream for a girl who had never made
sweet and sour meatballs.
Who couldn't make cookies.
I knew I was doing more
than collecting recipes.

I knew I was searching for connections, looking
for what my grandmother knew and
what seemed so foreign in my world.
I was digging for deposits
of family memory.

Babba served coleslaw on Shavuot and
poppyseed cookies that were so hard
you had to dunk them in tea.
Both were high on the scale of what mattered
also buckwheat latkes made with yeast and potatoes. 

I was busy retrieving information
like how she stuffed cabbage leaves and
packed cucumbers into sealers with her steady hand.
The very idea of these delicacies
filled my kitchen with power. Babba's recipes blurred my vision
complicated the early years of my marriage. 
I was living one life, dreaming of another.
By opening the door to her life
I finally was able to make my own.

Forty years later I can roll knishe dough
make three variations of mandelbroit
and kreplach to fit any menu. 
And, I did learn to make pickled tongue
which I still don't eat. 

 
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Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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