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Laurel Herman
Chef Instructor, Culinary Storyteller, Ancestral Foods

A Surprise Visit, Beloved Ghosts of Pesach Past

My Grandmothers ruby dishes and my fathers Haggadah
My Grandmothers ruby dishes and my fathers Haggadah

I am making my Matzoh brei this morning and recounting the events leading up to this post. I guess you could say this all started with my grandmother’s chicken soup. Her name was Bessie Friedman. My memories are going to the kosher butcher in Bay Shore, New York, sawdust on the floor (a thing of the past). I was embarrassed by my grandmother asking to feel the chicken before she decided which one was the perfect one for the soup. In those days you were allowed to do such things which are unthinkable in today’s world.

I remember my grandmother’s soup, with the feet hanging out of the pot, which now we would praise as ” great for collagen” One year, my grandmother was in DC, my mother and aunt Dorothy, made the soup, adding about a pound of parsley and dill, and way too many parsnips. It was like green dishwater, but we all laughed and probably ate it anyway. We used to evacuate our house for an annual camping trip when my grandmother commenced making homemade gefilte fish and horseradish. I still have and cherish her wooden bowl and chopper.

My parents’ house was an open door. In their small 1200 sq ft home they opened every imaginable table to accommodate the United Nations of people who were invited to experience the Exodus with us. All colors, religions, and cultures, much to the horror of our racist neighbor, our very own Archie Bunker.  Notable figures were my mother’s best friend and partner in crime, Betty Mogavero, and my father’s co-worker and beloved family friend, Bijou, France’s greatest export. There were family members who are no longer here, maybe they are enjoying Pesach in the celestial realm together, I hope.

My grandmother’s ruby glass dishes, and the all-important Maxwell House or NY board of Rabbis’ Haggadah were the stars of the seder, with precious notes in my father’s handwriting, who will read next? We all took turns, and it was one of the happiest days of the year in my childhood.

my fathers notes

My mother passed away this year in October at the age of 96, thirty-five ish years after my dad.  My heart was not in it. Grief gets very weird around the holidays. I am divorced (happily I may add), my son lives in another state. The past several years have been a moveable feast bringing my mother the holidays where she could best navigate, her apartment, then the home. There were times I resented all the work, having to pack it all up and transport it. I did it for her.

This year with strict instructions to my daughter not to add any extra spices and anything foreign to my grandmother’s soup, off she went to get a kosher chicken. I bought a brisket. There was a sadness that washed over me. I longed for the seders of the past, the family at the table, and the great love they poured into making Pesach memorable and relatable. I remember the black and white photos that were taken every year at the seders tables from my mother’s past, in the Bronx, surrounded by extended family. My children were brought up much the same way as my brother and I. Our house was open to any and all. We shared the beauty of this holiday with friends and co-workers.

She remembered.

My daughter and her boyfriend brought over my grandmother’s Ruby glass dishes and Haggadahs,  The ones with my father’s notes, and I could hear the voices of the readers, my Uncle Reg, and Aunt Dorothy, My Uncle Murray, Bijou, cousins Bernie and Kay, all my cousins of course, and my second mother,  Betty Mogavero, I  didn’t even have a seder plate but we made do with what I had. A shank bone from Wegmans. My father left a note “keep the children awake” so we could stay awake long enough to find the afikomen.

The gluten-free matzoh balls were perfectly round, something I could never achieve even after all my years of cooking.  My grandmother’s soup was PERFECTION.  We began to read and tell the story.” Are you doing this to make me feel better? I hope not.”

“No Mom, I’m doing this because I love Passover.”

About the Author
Laurel Herman is a Chef Instructor, Culinary Storyteller, and Culinary Medicine practitioner, residing in Richmond, Virginia. A classically trained chef in the European style( Thames Valley University, London, U.K. and The Institute for Integrative Nutrition) Her style is anything but classic, its fun, and relaxed. Laurel's passion is bringing people together through food goes back to growing up in a home which welcomed everyone. She has taught at various venues throughout the Richmond area. Now retired, but never from the love of food, active on Instagram Laurel also loves doing her podcast Chai talk with Laurel on Spotify. Her books, The Blissed Out Chef was published in 2015 and the Inner Kitchen, Balboa press in 2011.