Leonard Plotnicov

University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


During the AAA annual meeting held in San Francisco, in 2000, Sid and I arranged to meet for lunch at a Japanese restaurant in the convention hotel. Because of my ignorance regarding new non-smoking regulations, thinking they applied only to the Japanese restaurant, we went on to a Jewish delicatessen a couple of blocks from the hotel. There by chance we met the owner, David, who sat with us through lunch, the three of us bantering in Yiddish. Not surprisingly, with Sid present, a major topic was David's recipes, which came from his Eastern European origin. (David's short treatise on Jewish cuisine was published in Ethnology, Spring 2001.)

In recognition of that memorable encounter, I offer here two of my mother's recipes. I collected her recipes some 50 years ago when I was a graduate student living in Berkeley and she was still in Brooklyn. We wrote to each other in Yiddish because that was easier for her and because neither of us had a telephone. At my request she began sending recipes, one recipe to each letter. Translating into English was easy, putting them into a conventional recipe format was near impossible. First, the ingredients were scattered in the text, appearing when required for each step. Second, quantities were expressed in terms of "glasses, small bottles, and hefty handfuls." Third, she often interspersed her instructions with bits of advice, cautions, and reminiscences. It took patience and time to unscramble, sort, and format a recipe. The results were hardly satisfactory and even seemed pointless since I was virtually the only one in northern California who knew how these dishes should look and taste. I eventually settled on merely transliterating directly from the Yiddish, as appears below.


Remember you how, with two years back, did you collect blueberries in the country and also whole gallon bottles [jugs]? So you remember how first I picked over the fruit and how, after, I washed it and then let the water run out, and how after that I put some fruit and some sugar into the bottles and then a little more fruit and a little more sugar.

In a gallon [jug] put in about four glasses sugar [and fruit, preferably black cherries] and let stand a two or three days. After [fermentation] you have to quickly pour in alcohol because if you don't do that, soon will be worms after three days. But remember you should not screw up [cap] the bottle but bind it up with a little rag. I mean a cloth. After you pour in alcohol may you screw up the bottle. Here in Brooklyn, the lady is still selling [bootleg] alcohol. Can you get it where you are?

From various fruits can you make vishnik, like cherries make a good vishnik. But with cherries needs one more sugar because they are sour. How much sugar one needs will you alone see. First is how much fruit and second is how sweet you want and third is how sweet or sour is the fruit. After a little time can one taste and more sugar can one put. Forget not that when you put everything into the bottle, the fruit, the sugar, and everything, must it not fill the bottle. But when everything is in must it be three-quarter full, otherwise will it run out because it plays. That's what it is called. It begins to play and it must have room to play. So give it one-quarter from the top to play. That's what we call it, vishnik playing.

You should know that it must take at least four months to stand and it can stay even as long as 100 years.


Take two pounds potatoes, peel the skin, cut the potatoes, and boil. After, pour off the water and mix the potatoes with a little salt and pepper to taste.

Take two onions or three and fry until it becomes brown and then mix with the potatoes. And they have to become well cold. Now take, let's say, a pound flour or a pound and a half. I don't know because I've never measured, but I write you thus approximately. But when it is made must one alone understand how.

Take this flour in a little bowl and beat in two eggs with a little warm water with a little salt, and one must knead this not hard. After, lay this into a little bowl and cover this to with a towel for ten minute. After, take a rolling pin and roll well out, not too thick and not too thin. And take a small glass and make [cut] out circles like cookies. After, take the potatoes and lay in in dough and one seals well it shall not open itself.

Take a large pot with water and it should boil up the water. And put in a little salt and when the water boils, put in the varenikes. But not too many because the varenikes must cook themselves very free and not too crowded, and they must cook a twenty or 25 minute. After, sieve them off on a sieve. After, put them in into a bowl and pour on chicken fat.

[These can now be eaten warmed or baked until the dough is crisp and browned.]

Now I want to tell you that you should know, Lenny, that varenikes are not only the heaviest [hardest] thing to make. Only this is such a thing that from 100 balabustes [world class housewives] can make only three balabustes varenikes. Because this is such a thing which has many very delicate things for which one must be a nexport [maven] on this. And a person who doesn't know this, and who doesn't see how this is made, can at no time in life make this. But, Lenny, whenever you will come will I teach you because I know this well. Not that I want to myself praise.

I wrote of a dinner I had made for friends. (LP)

Further write you to me that the varenikes were themselves a little fell apart. Can I you write that it is here women what are already housewives more than twenty years and cannot yet any varenikes not to make. And even by me, when I make varenikes, become also some fallen apart. Because this is the heaviest work besides what it takes away so much time. Mrs. Goldstein is already married 30 year, is when you [threaten to] chop off the [her] hands can she any varenikes not make. Therefore say I that you have been able made varenikes are you a great, hard working, housewife.


(Pop's recipe)

You wish to know how makes one a gogol mogol. This know I also. As one has a cold on the heart [chest] makes hot milk with a two little spoons honey and also a small piece butter. One mixes this out and one drinks this few times, becomes lighter the cold on heart.


(Mom's version)

Gogol mogol is not as Poppa has told you but as I write you now because he knows not. It is good, milk with honey, when it is heavy on the heart, but it is not any gogol mogol.

Take a yellow [egg yolk] or even two yellows with a two spoon sugar and rub this well, like a cream. After, warm well the milk and pour in into the yellows and mix well when you pour the milk. But remember well that only the yellows, not the whites. The whites pour out because that is not good for this. All in a glass.



First good clean make the neck [the skin of a chicken neck]. After, sew to the narrow side. Now take two spoons flour and one spoon matzoh meal, with a little salt and pepper, and a spoon chicken fat and mix well with a fork until the whole flour becomes good through taken with the fat. After, fill up this neck, but you must good see that this neck shall only be a half with the flour, not in whole full. Because when it cooks itself becomes this neck very small and it becomes very hard. Therefore must you see that when you fill up this neck shall this be a half empty. This means that this neck looks like very empty but so must this be because when it cooks itself becomes this neck very small, becomes already the flour thicker. And if the neck is too much filled, and when it cooks itself, becomes this neck very hard and it leaves a raw inside, and when you sew already this neck take with the needle and give a few stabs in neck from both sides like one sticks [pins] in a pillow. As when it cooks itself shall be able in air as it shall itself be able through cook. But see, my child, that you shall, may it never come to it, not forget the needle in neck.