Sally Abrams
Here's How I See It

A memory made of flour, sugar, chocolate, and love

Image: Sally Abrams
Image: Sally Abrams

“Would you like to come over and bake with me?” I asked my granddaughter. Just home from camp, and with a budding interest in learning her way around the kitchen, I thought a morning spent baking would be enjoyable for both of us. But along with learning how to measure carefully and follow a recipe accurately, I wanted to give her something more — a sweet and tangible connection to my mother, her great-grandmother, who passed away 25 years ago and for whom she is named.

We set to work baking Chocolate Chip Kamish Bread, a simple bar recipe found in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine (and often referred to as mandel bread). My mother was not a particularly talented cook, but she was an excellent baker. When she baked kamish bread, and she did so very often, it usually disappeared the day it was baked. She sometimes expressed dismay that it was gone so fast. “Save some for tomorrow,” she would implore my brothers and me — but I think she was secretly pleased. When our kids were young and Bubbie showed up with a square Tupperware container in hand, they all knew what was inside. The kamish bread was quickly devoured.

As my granddaughter and I measured and mixed the simple ingredients, we talked about Bubbie. Her face is familiar to our grandkids from photographs, and they have heard more than a few of her bits of wisdom, often from the mouths of their own parents. Bubbie — and my dad — figure prominently in the stories I’ve told our grandkids about my childhood. I want them to know what made their great-grandparents special and loveable. My parents were also living models of perseverance and resilience in the face of endless hardships. I draw strength from their example and hope that as they mature, our grandchildren will too.

But on this soft summer morning, we simply talked about Bubbie the baker and how to make her kamish bread turn out just right. Together we coaxed the dough into the right shape and popped it into the oven. The kamish bread turned out perfectly. We barely allowed it to cool before cutting it, scooping up warm slices, and heading out to the deck to enjoy Bubbie’s best recipe and a few more memories.

Bubbie’s Kamish Bread
2 eggs
½ cup oil
2/3 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch salt
Capful of almond extract
6-8 oz. chocolate chips

Beat eggs, oil, and sugar. Add almond extract. Add dry ingredients. Mix in chocolate chips. Grease a cookie sheet with oil. Divide dough evenly into two parts. Brush hands with oil and shape the dough into two oval-shaped shaped loaves (dough is soft, loaves will be low). Bake at 350 degrees for about 18-20 minutes or until edges of loaves are light brown and center is baked through. Cool and slice. Freezes well…. but likely to be devoured the day it’s made.

What did my granddaughter take away from that day, besides a plate of kamish bread to bring home to her family? An appreciation for how old a good recipe can be — and how good an old recipe can be. From her vantage point, any recipe that dates back to my childhood is, indeed, ancient. It also sparked curiosity about her great-grandmother, an interest in knowing more.

We’re all part of a larger family story, and sometimes that bond is strengthened though cherished foods. Studies show there is a powerful link between food and memories. If Bubbie were alive today to hear this, she would laugh and say, “I could have told you that.” She often rolled her eyes at studies confirming what she saw as simple common sense.

Twenty-five years ago, my mother, my daughter, and I formed a three-generation chain. Now my daughter and I have each moved up the chain, and her daughter fills the granddaughter spot.

I am about the same age my mother was when she died; my daughter is about the same age I was at that time. Sometimes when I look at her, I see shadows of myself from long ago. While I don’t physically resemble my mother, I wouldn’t be surprised if, nonetheless, my daughter sees some traces of Bubbie in my personality, outlook, or quirks. And, when I look at my granddaughter, I see reminders of the little girl my daughter once was — and my daughter sees it too. Memory can feel like a hall of mirrors that blurs time. By both nature and nurture, we carry elements of our loved ones along with us.

And we carry their stories, stories that encompass the years they spent with us. We share their wisdom, laugh at their old jokes, and sometimes, we recreate the dishes they lovingly created for us. The power of food to evoke memories is its own kind of immortality, an alchemy that transforms flour, sugar, and chocolate into something beyond bakery.

About the Author
Sally Abrams is Director of Judaism and Israel Education at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. She has taught thousands about Israel and/or Judaism in churches, classrooms, civic groups, and Jewish communal settings.
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