A family's treasured recipes and rich history meld in a self-published cookbook
December 17, 2000
By CATHY THOMAS
The Orange County Register
The first edition of Judy Bart Kancigor's "Melting Pot Memories" sold out in six weeks in spring 1999. Since then, three more editions have been printed, with a total of more than 2,400 copies sold. There hasn't been any fancy merchandising campaign, simply word of mouth.
At first, she was surprised by brisk sales of her self-published cookbook. I'm not.
Recently, I visited her Fullerton home, seeking Hanukkah recipes. Delectable dishes to celebrate the eight-day Jewish festival commemorating the rededication of the Temple, the feast of lights that celebrates the small cruse of oil that lighted the Temple's holy lamps for eight days. (This year, Hanukkah begins Dec. 22).
Kancigor shared holiday dishes such as Aunt Hilda's Cherry Chili Chicken, a savory-sweet roast chicken dish with raisins and pitted black cherries (most probably from the '40s), and her incredible potato latkes, with an updated, reduced-fat option.
I got formulas for those mouthwatering specialties, but Kancigor and her captivating book left me with so much more than recipes from relatives.
She has captured the joy, wisdom and nostalgic history of the Rabinowitz family, tracing her grandparents' roots from Slonim (a city in Eastern Europe that is now part of Belarus, formerly Russia and before that, Poland) to suburbia.
Among the recipes, she weaves stories of Ellis Island in the early 1900s, the Great Depression and World War II, as well as recollections of her father, Jan Bart. Bart, a cantor and entertainer in early television, at the time of his death in 1971 had raised more funds for Israeli bonds than had any other performer.
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Got kugel? Got Kugel with Toffee Walnuts? Now you do. Here's the real homemade Gefilte Fish - and also Salmon en Papillote. Grandma Sera Fritkin's Russian Brisket and Hazelnut-Crusted Rack of Lamb. Aunt Irene's traditional matzoh balls and Judy's contemporary version with shiitake mushrooms. Cooking Jewish gathers recipes from five generations of a food-obsessed family into a celebratory saga of cousins and kasha, Passover feasts - the holiday has its own chapter - and crossover dishes. And for all cooks who love to get together for coffee and a little something, dozens and dozens of desserts: pies, cakes, cookies, bars, and a multitude of cheesecakes; Rugelach and Hamantaschen, Mandelbrot and Sufganyot (Hanukkah jelly doughnuts). Not to mention Tanta Esther Gittel's Husband's Second Wife Lena's Nut Cake.
LET ME INTRODUCE MYSELF
I come from a long line of legendary cooks..and eaters! My mother's family (the Rabinowitzes) is huge, and I grew up in the Brooklyn/Long Island version of the movie Avalon (without the fire, of course). Raised with my cousins as siblings, our parents were inseparable, and our holiday feasts, or even impromptu get-togethers, were hardly what you might call intimate gatherings.
My grandmother, mother, and aunts cooked in huge quantities, and each had her own specialties. Mama Hinda's Challah and Maple Walnut Cake, my mother's Chopped Liver, Chicken Soup, and Meat Tsimmes, Aunt Estelle's Gefilte Fish and Chocolate Chip Cookies, Aunt Sally's Sweet and Sour Meatballs, Apple Strudel, and Red, White and Blue Cake, Aunt Irene's Sweetbreads, Honey Cake, and decorated Butter Bookies, Aunt Hilda's Stuffed Cabbage and Chocolate Chip Mandelbrot.
Until I got married (at the ripe old age of almost 19, I might add) my cooking experience was limited to open-face melted cheese sandwiches with a slice of tomato. But armed with my copy of Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook and my daily calls to my mother-in-law, I soon amassed a new, more exotic repertoire: Stuffed Peppers, Spaghetti and Meat Sauce, Veal Parmigiana, Chicken Tetrazzini, and the specialty of the house for company: Chinese Pepper Steak over Minute Rice.
While my friends were rushing sororities (I think they were called House Plans at Brooklyn College), I was hurrying home to my love nest on Flatbush Avenue where my young husband, Barry (yes, still married after all these years!) awaited dinner.