About a year ago this month, I lost my grandmother, Mitzi, after a long illness. This came at a time when I was nearing the end of culinary school, and had just gotten my first professional baking job at one of the casinos in Atlantic City, so her passing was especially poignant.
For me, Bubba Mitzi was the notion of hospitality made manifest. When visiting her house, the first words from her mouth were asking if I had eaten, if I was hungry, and specifically wanted some chicken soup. (Like all Jewish grandmothers, my Bubba made the best matzah ball soup to be found on this Earth, and I’d argue to the grave anyone who said otherwise.)
Memories of my Bubba tend to center around her giant dining room table- the sight of all the best family dinners of my childhood. Showing up at Bubba’s house meant delicious things to come, and anything bad in this world could wait until after dessert was cleared away. The table would almost groan with cucumber and onion slaw, marinated tomatoes, chicken, brisket, long golden loaves of challah, heavy green potato kugel, glorious noodle kugel, rainbow-colored jello molds studded with fruit complementing each flavor, and cakes that you would pray some survived to have again tomorrow.
Alongside all of these things, though- all these beautiful culinary memories- I remember the stories the most. Family dinners meant stories- people laughing, joking, remembering things from the past, and recounting them all into my eager ears as I filled my belly.
I like to say that my mother and sisters were the first ones who taught me to bake as a child, but it was my Bubba Mitzi who taught me WHY I should bake- to create those moments over again. To fill a table with food that people can laugh around and swap stories over, to create a magic circle in which all there is to be worried about is what’s going on your plate next.
This was the hospitality my Bubba taught me- that it’s not the food you make so much as the people you share it with, and that the secret ingredient in all the best recipes is love- for the work, and for those who will enjoy it.
Happy Mother’s Day, Bubba- I miss you deeply, and if I can give people half the happy memories you’ve given men, that would be more than enough.
Stay humble, my friends.
Stay healthy and warm,
and of course-