the schmooze
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York

*In Yiddish, “shiterein” describes someone who cooks from experience and touch rather than using a “retsept” (recipe).

Coca-Cold keeps the secret recipe for its 127-year-old soda inside a steel vault; it’s monitored by several cameras. 
Pepsi’s formula was changed to make it sweeter in 191.  And in the 1980s, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo both switched from “tsuker” (sugar) to high-fructose corn syrup, a cheaper sweetener.
Twinkies play up the notion that their recipes are “heylik” (sacred), unchanging documents that are also closely guarded.

My late mother, Jeanette Gottlieb, might have had a “secret recipe” for her noodle pudding, brisket, and cholent, but no one knew.  She cooked using the “shiterein” method.  One thing we all knew about cholent:  the longer it cooks, the more sumptuous it is.  And her stuffed cabbage contained sweet potatoes, bashed and smashed, pineapple chunks, apples, raisins, cinnamon, walnuts, tomato sauce and “vaser” (water).

Mom probably would have agreed with Andrew Schloss (“52 Ways To Cook Your Chicken”):  “The chicken is an odd bird.  Its puny wings have no more chance of lifting its girth aloft than our arms have in helping us fly. Its legs are those of a sumo wrestler and its Mae West breast (“brist”/”brust”) seems better suited to take to a sauce than to be lifted to the skies.”        Source:  Newsday, Feb. 1, 1989

Mom’s turkey was made in a brown paper bag.  There were no tofu turkeys.  The Nov. 12, 1998 episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” was titled, “No Fat.”  It’s Thanksgiving and Frank and Marie have high cholesterol, so Marie makes a tofu turkey.  Ray, behind her back, orders a complete holiday dinner.

The Memorable Moment:

Robert:     “How ‘bout that, huh?  Look how it jiggles.”
Ray:         “That’s a sign of a good bean curd bird.”
Frank:      “May I have my carving knife, please?”
Marie:      “Thank you, Frank.”
Frank:     “I wanna slit my throat.”

Mrs. Portnoy (“Mrs. Portnoy’s Retort - A Mother Strikes Back”), wouldn’t share her recipe for chicken soup.  She wrote:

  1.  I would give you my recipe, but I don’t want to be arrested by The American Medical Association for practicing medicine without a license.

And Portnoy’s recipe for vegetable soup was as follows:

  1.  Add water to vegetables.
  2.  Without water the soup gets dry.
  3.  Avoid gassy vegetables.
  4.  Avoid sexy vegetables.
  5.  There’s no pleasure in being sexy and gassy at the same time.

  Others, like Ruth and Bob Grossman (“The Italian-Kosher Cookbook”) provides detailed recipes.  Ex. “Shnorra String Bean Salad” lists the following ingredients:

6 Tablespoons olive oil
3 Tablespoons wine vinegar
a few pinches salt and pepper
1 chopped onion
1 lb. string beans, cooked and drained
4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1 Teaspoon prepared mustard

This is followed by a humorous explanation on the meaning of “shnorra”:  Shnorra sees his dentist twice a year to read all the magazines he can’t afford.

And, finally, Sam Levenson--of blessed memory--also had a mama who did instinct baking.  He wrote, (“In One Era & Out the Other”):

“How much flour do you use, Ma?”
“What do you mean, how much do I use?”
“I mean a cup, a half cup...?”
“You use your head.”
“Okay. So how many eggs?”
“Not too many.”
“How much sugar?”
“Not too much.”
“How much salt?”
“Not too salty.”
“How much water?”
“A mouthful.”
“What?  Okay. So how long do I leave it in the oven?”
“It shouldn’t burn.”

Whatever method of cooking you use, remember these Yiddish expressions:

“Oyf a nikhtern mogn ken men keyn zakh nit fartrogn.”
(With an empty stomach nothing can be tolerated.)

“Gehakte leber iz beser vi gehakte tsores.”
(Chopped liver is better than chopped up troubles.)

“Libe un hunger voynen nit in eynem.”
(Love and hunger don’t dwell together.)


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Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of
two books:
yiddish for dog and cat loversbook
"Yiddish for Dog & Cat Lovers" and
"Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction?  Yiddish
Trivia."  To order a copy, go to her

NU, what are you waiting for?  Order the book!

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