by Nancy Orans Eder, a member of Get Your Wordsworth
In many ways my mother, Sylvia, was ahead of her time in spite of the fact that she grew up in a conservative home. Brought up in an orthodox family in Boro Park, an area of Brooklyn that was overwhelmingly Jewish, my mother was the youngest of seven children. She grew up thinking that the whole world was Jewish until she went to Brooklyn College at the age of sixteen and discovered a new world . . . a world of different viewpoints, intellectually challenging and stimulating. After a very active social and political life, at twenty-three she met and married my dad who shared her world view and values. They were happily married for almost forty years. They had three daughters. I was the first.
In her late 40s, she went back to university to get a graduate degree and became a math teacher in the public schools in L.I. My mother had a keen intellect, challenged traditional thought and was an atheist and avowed Communist until the day she died at age 92. Had she started at a younger age in a different time, she should have been a lawyer.
Sylvia was a very attractive woman with a petite slim figure. Her weight never went over 105 lbs. She dressed tastefully and in the feminine style of the times wearing just a hint of lipstick. Her lively smile was beautifully radiant and warm. Large dark brown eyes showed compassion and warmth. She had a high forehead which my father always said was an indication of intelligence. I see my mom’s face as a young and vital person who was always interested in learning new things. It is her joyful pretty face framed by dark wavy hair that I still recall. She rarely got angry. When she did, we knew it by her silence. Can’t remember my mother ever raising her voice, but silence can sometimes be louder. Mom was an intelligent and warm parent encouraging our studies and praising our accomplishments. Approachable and likeable, to me she was the best mother possible. I spent countless hours talking to her, sharing my ups and downs with friends, boyfriends in particular, and was usually in awe of her intellect.
But until I went to college, my mother was the chief cook, housekeeper, decorator, who maintained our household as unpaid ‘housewife’. She also worked as my father’s office manager in his family medical practice. She answered phones and patients’ questions, making appointments and doing his billing.
While she spent many years at home, she read the New York Times cover to cover, not to mention the many politically left magazines and newspapers that piled up in our living room. Her politics were the guiding light of her life. Well into her 80s Mom was a social and political activist always ready to go to a march in Washington or to stand on a street corner to register voters in New York City.
She enjoyed many creative outlets such as upholstery, gardening, sewing and making silver and copper utensils. But when I came home from school, mom was always there with the glass of milk and cookies just like mothers in the movies of the 1940s.
As accurately as clockwork, 6:00 p.m. dinner was on the table. No takeout meals for us. No frozen prepared food boxes ever found their way to our dinner table. Pizza? What was that? Restaurants? Chinese food was the rare once a month treat. Our dinners was served in the dining room with some fresh fruit to start, soup, meat, fish or chicken served usually with potatoes or rice and a green vegetable, salad, followed by dessert of canned fruit or baked apples. We all ate together talking about what happened in school that day or what current event had made the headlines.
Mom made blintzes when she felt like it which wasn’t very often. Making blintzes was a lot of work, but she never complained. She was very organized, meticulous in fact. About many things. No less in the kitchen for a task that called for organization.
In preparation for the task at hand she wore a half apron over her skirt which was the order of the day in the 1950s, perhaps an apron that I had dutifully sewed in home economics. It would have been made of cotton in some cheerful pattern with fruits or flowers. The rim of the apron would be trimmed in rickrack a kind of trim attached by hand after the whole thing was sewn on the sewing machine upstairs. The main body of the apron was attached to a waistband which I thought cleverly covered the stitches that were neatly basted underneath the waistband. Then the whole thing was attached to two long strips of cotton of the same variety as the skirt and these were tied in a neat bow behind her. All dressed for the kitchen experience, she was the head chef of our home.
To make our blintzes, eggs were cracked into a cream colored pottery mixing bowl which mom used all her married life. It wasn’t decorated except for the vertical lines indented like a pumpkin . . .it’s wide-mouth opening tapered down to a sturdy flat base. It was strictly utilitarian and nothing beautiful about it outside of the shape, but through the years it held many wonderful mixtures of ingredients: meatloaf, applesauce, pancake batter, tomato sauce, fruit salad preparation and cream for whipping were all combined at different times in this plain large bowl.
But first came the making of the crepes. She beat together whole eggs into a foamy and pale yellow froth adding flour and milk to just the right consistency of thick cream for pouring. Then with two metal pans heating butter on the stove she poured the batter into each pan. The skill and art came into play as at just the right moment she poured back the excess batter into the bowl. The crepe cooked for two minutes or so until one side was golden brown. Then she flipped it out with the cooked side on the bottom, onto a waiting kitchen towel and poured the next measure of batter into the empty pan. By then the second pan was cooked on the one side sufficiently to be gently coaxed out onto the towel and that pan was again refilled. Forty or so more crepes were cooked on one side and the towels would be laden with these cooling pancakes waiting for filling.
Then came the filling: dense, dry farmer’s cheese combined with lumpy pot cheese softened with a couple of egg yolks and a bit of sugar were all combined for the filling of the blintzes.
When I got older and could offer some assistance, I was cajoled into putting the filling onto each blintz and then frying the folded up square packages in the same frying pans, three or four to a pan. The blintzes were gobbled up slathered in sour cream or smothered in apple sauce. When cholesterol and fats were not an issue or even a known problem, mom’s blintzes ruled the day.
Cooking with mom was an excuse to talk . . . to share with her and unburden myself of my constant complaints about high school issues: the unavailability of mature boys to date, the essay that was due in English class, the gym teacher who wouldn’t allow girls to stay out of gym with menstrual cramps.
Life was easier when mom had the answers or at least was willing to listen. I listened to my mom’s opinions and welcomed her sage advice. . . .not always, but most times. It’s a rare mother and daughter relationship these days that allows for that give and take across the kitchen sink. Perhaps more mothers have to prepare dinner more often.
6 eggs beaten
1 ½ C. milk (add ½ c. at a time to the eggs)
1 ¼ C flour (measure as sifting adding a little at a time making sure no lumps form)
Using two 7 inch pans, oil each pan once only. Heat up the pans. Pour a little batter into crepe pans and then pour out the excess quickly. Cook on one side only at this stage. Makes about 45 crepes.
1 lb. farmer cheese
1 lb. pot cheese
2 egg yolks
sugar to taste
Combine cheeses, egg yolks and a couple of spoonfuls of sugar. Set aside until you have all the crepes ready. Placing each crepe with the cooked side INSIDE, fill each crepe in the center with about 1 T. of the mixture. Fold two sides over the cheese mixture and the top and bottom sides over those….making a square for each. Then fry several of these blintzes in a buttered/or oiled pan a few minutes on each side to finish the cooking.
Add applesauce or sourcream when serving. Sometimes Grandma would use apricot jam as a filling instead of cheese for leftover crepes. Yum. Yum.
Nancy Eder worked for over thirty years as an administrator at New York University. She wields a paintbrush in the Pyrenees, a shovel in school gardens, and now a pen in her second year of the “Writing from Life Experience” workshop.