Today, Christmas is a time for family and friends to get together and giving and receiving of presents. After reading the book of Jessica Soffer: Tomorrow there will be apricots- I realized that, that many of us keep memories about nice Christmas dinners or particular dishes and maybe more….
Jessica, who comes from an immigrant family recalled one of her most memorable Christmas food what created a Christmas tradition for her. Here is a fragment of her book:
Her father was raised in the Jewish quarter of Baghdad, Iraq, and fled to Brooklyn in the late 1940-s because of growing anti-Semitism, and worse. Her mother was a child of second generation Russian Jewish immigrants who avoided church and adhered to exactly no traditions except Chinese food on Sundays. When her parents found each other, they didn’t have fantasies of reaffirming their religious faith. They didn’t have grand dreams of family get-togethers, annual reunions that involved heirloom recipes or even heirloom tomatoes. Her father had to give up everything because of his religion. She wasn’t raised in a religious household. They didn’t celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas. But everything changed when she was 10. One winter evening, her mum and dad each brought home containers of gefilte fish from some New York city’s most famed Jewish food shops. This was entirely unplanned, but the coincidence was not lost on them. They were heartened by it, connected by it, inspired by it-and they tasted and compared, discussed and judged. They called it their First Annual Gefilte Extravaganza. Jessica found it ridiculous and refused to partake. She didn’t approach them, neither the fish, because she found it gross, flesh colored gelatin, suspended pearlescent carrots onions, celery, and the oval pieces of the fish itself (patties of ground carp or pike) She refused dinner and didn’t allow either of them kiss her good night until they’d brushed their teeth twice! Every year from then until her dad passed away, they reenacted this for a couple of days around Hanukkah, they had come home, make sure Jessica was watching, do a little drumroll, and then ceremoniously placed large plastic container after large plastic container of gefilte fish on the dining room table. From Russ & Daughters” they’d say or Murray’s Sturgeon Shop, multiple varieties of horseradish were always involved. And Jessica every time refused to engage, lived on tofu or granola for the duration, disappointed by the lack of latkes and gifts, and sour about how nontraditional their tradition was. She felt that they are not only bad Jews, but were weird ones as well! In over a decade of those tasting her parents never settled on a verdict. Year after year, they ‘d sit at the kitchen table, hem and haw, theorize and posit, talk it over as only they Jews can do, and never come to any conclusions. The next Hanukkah they’d be at it again-as if they’d forgotten their preferences, as if they tried to forget. But in the end it wasn’t about the fish, but rather the process about it, which itself became a tradition. It would never be taken for granted, grow stale, or get complicated as family traditions so often do. After Jessica’s father passed away she read about Gefilteria, which was making an updated artisanal version of gefilte fish. She brought some home for her mother and she halfheartedly feigned disgust for old times’ sake. They ate together just two of them, taking small, careful bites, in order to taste, as if to compare it with everything that had come before. And she liked it. In spite of her mother told her that that version was nothing like anything either of them had ever had. and that by eating it, they were establishing that tradition was over. The most essential ingredient, her father, her mother’s husband was gone. Some traditions, aren’t meant to be passed down. They are made and remembered as they existed: only for their specific time, for those who loved, honored, and needed them so..
But what Gefilte fish is?
Gefilte fish or “stuffed fish”, is a dish made from a poached mixture of ground deboned fish, (such as carp, whitefish, or pike), which is typically eaten as an appetizer. It is traditionally served by Ashkenazi Jewish households. In Poland, gefilte fish is also a traditional dish of Catholic homes to be served on Christmas Eve and Holy Sunday. In Israel people consume gefilte fish at Shabbat and holidays such as Passover (but they eat in the entire year nowadays).
Although the dish historically consisted of a minced fish forcemeat stuffed inside the fish skin, as its name implies, since the 19th century the skin has commonly been omitted and the seasoned fish is formed into patties similar to quenelles or fish balls.
How does it look like?
Fish fillets are ground with eggs, onion, bread or matza crumbs, and spices to produce a paste or dough which is then boiled in fish stock. Traditionally gefilte fish is cooked and served as egg-shaped patties, like quenelles, but sometimes it is cooked in large logs or blocks and then sliced for serving. It is usually served cold or at room temperature. Each piece may be topped with a slice of carrot, with a horseradish mixture called khreyn on the side.
Due to the previous general poverty of the Jewish population in Europe and especially Eastern Europe, where the dish originated, an economical recipe for the above also may have included extra ground and soaked matza meal or bread crumbs, thus creating extra fish balls. This form of preparation eliminated the need for picking out fish bones at the table, and “stretched” the (expensive) fish further, so that even poor, large families could enjoy fish on Shabbat.
The recipe: 1.Grind the chosen fish, 2 1/2 onions and 4 carrots together. Place fish mixture in a wooden bowl. Using a hand chopper, add eggs one at a time. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, 4 teaspoons salt and white pepper and continue to chop until very well blended. Stir in the ice water a little at a time throughout this process. Add matzo meal and chop again. Check to see if mixture is thick enough to bind together to make an oval gefilte fish ball and if not add in more matzo meal.
2.Meanwhile, fill two large heavy stock pots half full of water . Into each pot slice one raw onion and one sliced carrot. Add fish skins, if desired. Sprinkle in paprika, salt, black pepper and two tablespoons of sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat and let boil for 10 minutes.
3.With wet hands shape the fish balls and carefully drop into boiling stock. Cover slightly and cook over medium-low heat for 2 hours. When done, let fish sit in the pot for 10 minutes, then remove pieces carefully to containers and strain remaining stock over fish balls, just barely covering them. Chill and serve. They will now keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 days.