When we emptied my late mother’s house earlier this year, we found a large kitchen drawer full of papers. Most of them were recipes: cut from a magazine; torn from the newspaper; taken from the back of a pack; neatly hand-written; passed on from a friend or family member; scribbled on the back of a to do list. These recipes had been accumulating for decades and, at some point, I think Mum had planned to make order of them. In that same drawer were 2 empty books, into which I suspect she planned—one day—to stick the recipes.

I took the papers home in a box and over a few nights in front of the TV, I sorted them. Among the recipes, I found things so dated no-one would consider making them today: think casserole chicken a la king and veal bake with cashew cheese. And I found treif recipes that no one in the (now kosher) family would cook, such as fairy pork or lobster and cantaloupe salad. A calendar from the local butcher of our childhood—Mr Broadhead—with “meat recipes” on the back transported me back to the early 1970s and memories of errands to buy meat. I found a recipe for my aunt’s spiced yoghurt cake, which I’ve yearned for since the 1980s. Mum only made it once or twice because Dad didn’t like it. But I remember loving it. Some handwritten scrawls are indecipherable as recipes, but they are in Mum’s familiar hand, along with a planned menu, or a reminder to herself to call a friend or pick up the dry cleaning. One of my favourite finds is a recipe for borscht in Yiddish, with Mum’s hand-marked language corrections.

I’ve kept them all. And I’ve now made order of them: one book of savoury recipes, one book of sweets. In putting the books together, I’ve travelled a journey with Mum. If we had done this together, I imagine she would have thrown most of them out. But this is not a cookbook. It’s a  history of our mother’s cooking aspirations throughout her married life—the earliest recipe I found with a date was from March 1964, a month before I was born, but I think there are also recipes from the NY Times, which would be from 1962, the year Mum and Dad married and were living in New York City. And recipes from every following decade.

I organised the recipes in a traditional way, grouping like with like, not chronologically. So, Mum’s life story jumps around, just as my memories of her do, recalling a moment from childhood followed by a recent conversation or experience.

As Mum’s health declined, grand-daughter Rebecca was desperate to get Savta’s delicious meatball recipe. All that came from her conversation with Savta on that topic was the dictate to “first, do everything very, very carefully”, probably Mum’s guiding rule for life, although not one she applied to the storage of her recipes. In the jumble of papers, I found a typed meatball recipe. We will try it. Maybe, maybe, it will be the memory that Rebecca is looking for.

Article by Author/s
Annette Charak
Annette Charak is a long-standing member and current president of Shira Hadasha in Melbourne.

13 Comments

  1. Just superb and what a beautiful read with such beautiful memories for you. I couldn’t help but have a bit of a giggle because I recent did the same job at my mother in laws home after she moved into age care. The difference was I found about 10 ( of what I think are the same) recipe for cakes only each one is slightly different with slightly different ingredients and now I’m not sure which is correct. I guess I’ll have to try and make them to work out which was THE recipe
    Thank you
    Nicki

  2. This is lovely, Annette, and brings your beautiful Danielle back in many memories – I can see her warm smile and wonderful eyes as she speaks in Yiddish or translates. I love the photo! Thank you.

  3. Pauline Posner Reply

    Loved loved loved Danielle
    An exceptionally intelligent warm caring woman with a smile that melted your heart. ❤️
    Beautiful article Annette

  4. What a beautiful article. Please let me know how the meatballs turn out! xx

  5. Lisa Tonkin Reply

    I loved your mum she was always so nurturing, smiling and happy I remember her so clearly. I remember you so clearly both of you gorgeous. You are always a good writer and I really enjoyed reading this piece beautifully written sending you love

  6. Annette your mum was a treasure just as I’m sure we’re her recipes and the collection you’ve made of them. Miss her a lot

  7. Corinne Fernandez-Markov Reply

    Such a beautiful story and fabulous journey through food. A Jewish journey. She loved to cook and nourish – very carefully!

  8. Oh Annette this is absolutely priceless! Thank-you for sharing.

  9. Lauren Levin Reply

    That’s a beautiful memory of your mother’s kitchen love. Your mum was very special to me, teaching me Yiddish at monash. She made us learn poems off by heart, and I can still recite them 15 years later. She taught with high expectations, and laughter. She was an amazing woman. She was way too busy giving so much to her students to ever order those recipe clippings!!

  10. I have fond memories of your beautiful mother teaching me Yiddish.
    May her memory be a blessing

  11. Avigail Wonder Reply

    Your mother was such an elegant, warm and wise woman. She was my Yiddish lecturer in Monash University and I really loved learning with her and hearing her speak Yiddish. We had our lessons in her beautiful home and she was welcoming and non-judgemental and so patient. I’ll never forget her chuckling good naturedly when she had to teach a Greek girl who had joined our Yiddish class about shabbos and shul. She marvelled how one word in Yiddish didn’t have a translation but a full multi-layered meaning that could take hours to explain. That was a special semester I won’t forget.
    May her memory be a blessing!

  12. Thank you for this anecdote Annette. I love the pic of your mum in her kitchen. She will always be looking over your shoulder when you cook. What a beautiful image

  13. Thank you Annette.
    Your mother was very special to me. She helped me on two occasions to get my Yiddish pronunciation and expression right when I recited poems at April 19th Ghetto commemorations.
    Warm regards,
    Sylvie

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