Bubbe Wisdom: Two New Books Capture the Essence of Remarkable Grandmothers
By Susan Tomchin
We all know the Jewish grandmother stereotype—a stocky woman with a halo of gray hair, clad in housedress and apron, wearing sensible shoes and support hose, ready to dispense chicken soup at the first sign of a sniffle.
What we don’t see in this cardboard portrait of Bubbe is her intelligence, her wisdom, her depth of caring and her resilience.
Two delightful new books capture the essence of remarkable bubbes—with the help of their grandchildren.
Ilene Beckerman, known for witty and inspiring “everywoman” memoirs, among them the bestsellingLove, Loss and What I Wore (the basis for the off-Broadway play adapted by Delia and Nora Ephron), has written a delightfully heartfelt and humorous bouquet of a book to her late grandmother, Ettie Goldberg, entitled The Smartest Woman I Know (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $15.95).
After the death of her mother, Beckerman and her sister came to live with her grandparents, Ettie and Harry Goldberg, who ran a stationery and magazine store on Madison Avenue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “After raising three children while working in the store seven days a week, she found herself, at the age of 65, raising two grandchildren while working in the store seven days a week,” Beckerman writes.
Though she had only a third-grade education, Ettie dispensed wisdom to everyone, from Ilene and her sister Tootsie to customers such as Sara Delano Roosevelt, FDR’s mother, who confessed her worry about Franklin’s polio. “Don’t worry,” Ettie told her, “your son’s got a good head on his shoulders. Someday he’ll be president.”
Ettie had something to say about everything from beauty to dieting, from marriage to the importance of eating. When Ilene was upset about having to wear glasses, Ettie told her, “It’s not the end of the world. There’s already been a Jewish Miss America. Now we need a Jewish woman president—so go do your homework.”
Both humorous and poignant, The Smartest Woman I Know pays homage to a woman who, says Beckerman, had she been born in the late 20th century instead of the late 19th century, “probably would have been the superstar of advice bloggers.”
The bubbe in Feed Me Bubbe: Recipes and Wisdom From America’s Favorite Online Grandmother(Running Press, $16), by Bubbe and Avrom Honig, is known for dispensing advice about Jewish cooking through her cooking show, Feed Me Bubbe, on JLTV and FeedMeBubbe.com.
Though we never learn Bubbe’s real name, we see her photo and learn her background. Born in 1927 in a small New England town, where she has lived all her life, she worked for many years as a bank teller, yet served a hot kosher meal every night of the week. At age 80, with the encouragement and media expertise of her grandson, Avrom, she began a whole new career showing the wired generation how to cook “Jewish.”
Now she is busy making videos and fielding calls and emails from all the people who have discovered her online. She once got a desperate early morning call from a woman in the South who wanted to prepare latkes for a Chanukah party and didn’t know whether to use raw or cooked potatoes. Of course, Bubbe set her straight. “It’s amazing to me that there are so many people out there who need my help,” she writes. “They don’t know how to stuff cabbage! They’ve never tasted chopped liver! They can’t remember ingredients for matzo brei!”
Her book is filled with Jewish comfort food classics, as well as other easy-to-prepare recipes. There’s Bubbe’s Brisket, Chicken and Meatball Fricassee, Mushroom Barley Soup, Easy Chicken Schnitzel and Marble Mandel Bread, but also Eggplant Lasagna, Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes and Turkey Egg Rolls. Along with the recipes, Bubbe tells stories about her life, including the time she burned her first pot roast. She includes menus for holidays and other occasions—a picnic, an hors d’oeuvres party, a get-well-soon remedy—a reminder that with good, down-to-earth food comes the opportunity to get together with family and friends, something we all need more of in our busy world.