Of Mothers

I love this photo of my mother, taken sometime during WW2. Mum joined the Land Army and grew food for the nation. My mother was a mother of the old school, no canteen lunches for us. Breakfast at the table and a packed lunch. Most days she went to do the office work in my Dad’s fishing tackle shop. She was always home when I got back from school. She would usually be on her bed with the paper and the dog, having unpacked the shopping. When I came home she would get up and make me something to eat and then begin dinner.

Dad got home most days in time for the 6 o’clock news. When it finished we would eat. We usually had three courses. My mother didn’t really take to the industrial food products of the sixties, though she did have an ongoing fixation with packet mushroom soup. Thus we were spared instant mashed potato but I dreamed of rice-a-riso imagining it to be spicy and so much better than Mum’s soggy rice.

But I had a Jewish mother so we entertained with chopped liver and chopped herring, made from scratch, no French onion dips in our house. My parents entertained a great deal and Mum cooked everything. We had barbecues every Saturday and while my father indulged his pyromania I would set the table while Mum produced mountains of potato salad, sweet corn, pickled cucumbers. Her offerings were not “plated” in restaurant fashion, but they were delicious and bountiful.

Jewish holidays were celebrated without recourse to the Synagogue but with chicken soup and matzo balls, smoked salmon or whatever was called for. I was blessed to have a proper Jewish mother who had been raised in an orthodox community by her unorthodox mother Zena , my gloriously eccentric Nana. My best memory of Nana’s cooking was her pot roast but she was also famous for her taiglach. Taiglach are incredibly hard biscuits which have been boiled in a thick syrup and then Nana rolled them in coconut. Only Lithuanian Jews cook them.

I have learnt to make all my mother’s Jewish dishes, the way her mother made them. I do not have her dedication though; I’ve only made gefilte fish once. I have taught my daughter to make matzo balls. She is yet to master chicken soup. We were cultural Jews and it was the food we ate, cooked with love and dedication by our long suffering brown-eyed Yiddishe Mama that led me here.