Stuffed Cabbage and
Eileen W. Fisher
Copyright 2019 by Eileen W. Fisher
I think about my mother, what comes to mind is her reputation as
being a great cook. There were no cookbooks in my house, no recipe
files; everything was made from scratch. In a generation when most
women did not work, many found self-expression in cooking for their
families and friends as did my mother. It was her way of expressing
love for her family, and friends. It was her way to shine,
and to share.
excitement of Chanukah was not only my anticipation of gifts, but
also the anticipation of hosting a Sunday night dinner for my aunts
and uncles. First, my Dad would rearrange the living room furniture
so that he could pull out the blond mahogany extension table. Then,
my mother would cover it with the white and gold linen tablecloth
which she had freshly washed and ironed. Finally, I would set the
table with the ‘good’ dishes, and the sterling silver
knives and forks which I had just polished.
smells of fried onions with garlic would drift in from the kitchen as
we sat around the table. And, my mother never came out of the kitchen
until all the food was brought out; her specialties – neatly
wrapped rolls of sweet stuffed cabbage, and … homemade potato
knishes, crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy inside.
always took my mother’s cooking ability for granted until one
Sunday afternoon when we went downtown to Port Arthur’s
Restaurant in Chinatown to celebrate a birthday. As usual, we ordered
chicken chow mein and egg drop soup. While we were walking to the
car, my Mom unexpectedly announced that she would make chicken chow
mein for us at home.
know how to make that?”, I remember
asked about her cooking ability, her answer was always the same, “I
look to see what they put inside, and I taste it. It’s the
seasoning that counts, and everybody cooks to their own taste.”
to her word, I came home from school one day to find the kitchen
counter cluttered an array of cooking ingredients and utensils: an
open box of corn starch, jars of spices, a pungent garlic clove and
garlic press, two very sharp knives and a big soup ladle. Instead of
finding my mother sitting at the kitchen table waiting to greet me,
she was standing at the stove wearing an apron, stirring small chunks
of chicken with chopped green onion in a large pot of simmering
water. As I watched her, she took a taste, carefully added a pinch of
this or a pinch of that, and tasted it until she was satisfied.
boy, was that good! I was amazed that my Mom could
a complicated dish without a recipe!
few days before the usual Sunday dinner, I came home to find my
mother unloading a full shopping cart. She took out a large brown
paper bag from Irving’s Butcher Shop, unwrapped the waxed paper
package, and dumped the ground beef into a large metal mixing bowl.
Then, she seasoned it with kosher salt, a bit of paprika, and lots of
garlic powder, covered it with tin foil, and put it into the
refrigerator to marinate overnight.
next day, my mom boiled the green cabbage until soft, separated the
leaves, and spooned into each one a patty of meat with freshly fried
onions. After baking the stuffed cabbage rolls on top of her homemade
tomato sauce, she covered the pan with tin foil, and placed it in the
refrigerator so that the spices could soak in.
since my Great-uncle Hymie and his wife Julia were coming, Mom made
loads of potato knishes, his favorite dish. Two five-pound sacks of
raw potatoes were ready for use, but the knishes would be made Sunday
so that they would be fresh. The secret to my mother’s knish
was the sheet of dough that held the mashed potato filling. Each
sheet was very thin, and fried in hot oil only on one side so that
the outside would remain brown and crispy, while the spicy potato
filling remained soft.
evening turned out just lovely!
platters of food were passed around, my mother urged everyone to take
more. There was always more food on the table than
because my mother’s philosophy was, “If you don’t
put out enough, nobody wants to finish what’s there, and you
end up having food left over. Better you should have too much than
too little. You don’t want to be the one that they talk about.”
that evening as Uncle Hymie and Aunt Julia were getting ready to go
home, my mother brought out a large brown paper bag tied with string.
“Here Hymie. Take this. I made some extra knishes for you to
take home.” There must have been at least a dozen of them
judging by the size of the package.
Ray, you shouldn’t have bothered.” interjected Julia, as
usual! “Does Hymie look like he needs it? We could both stand
to lose some weight.”
his wife’s comments, Hymie took the package. Turning to my
mother with a twinkle in his eye, he said to Julia, “Ray makes
the best knishes”. There was never any doubt of his not
taking them, just as there was never any doubt of my
taking ‘no’ for an answer.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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