Monday, August 9, 2010

65 Years

In a Jewish Ceremony at a Quaker Meeting house outside of Manchester, England, in 1945, my grandparents were married. Ilse was 22 and Jonas was 24. Jonas had left Mannheim, Germany at age 18 on a work visa and had been interned at the Isle of Mann with other German refugees. Ilse had come through the Kindertransport at age 16 and had survived the London Blitz. Neither of them knew if their parents were still alive or what the future would hold. But, each knew they wanted the other for a traveling companion along the way. In the midst of all that death and destruction, they made the decision to affirm life. They have been partners in life ever since.

It seems funny to ask and document what they served for the meal celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary. But, if I have learned nothing else from my grandparents, I know deep within that life is for living and that each day and moment is precious. This meal is full of symbolism for our family, and each element tells a bit of my grandparents life together.

Fruit Soup and Figs

Fruit soup is a traditional food from my grandparents' region of Germany, the Rhineland Pfaltz, now colored by the fruit available from their home of the last 63 years, the US of A. My grandmother said that her mother used to joke, "Hurry up and come to the table! The soup is getting warm!" This batch was made from Mango Apricot Nectar, Raspberries, Japanese wine berries and fresh currants. The figs are from the trees of my aunt's father in Maryland. She says it is a beautiful thing to eat fruit from the trees he planted even though he is gone.

A Bagels, Lox and Cheese spread with English Cucumber Sandwiches 

There was also a whitefish ordered from Gershon's and tomatoes from my parent's garden. The chocolate Easter Rabbit is in honor of my grandmother's sister (and Dina's namesake) Margret. Grandma's Grandfather Leopold would always buy her a chocolate rabbit for her April birthday. Grandma's older sister, Margret, would always promptly bite off the ears without so much as a by your leave. Up until her death in 2004 at the age of 86, my Aunt Marget (Dina's namesake) bought her little sister a chocolate rabbit for her birthday.

Zwetschgenkuchen and Trifle

The trifle was made from scratch by my aunt, custard, cake and all. The Zwetschgenkuchen was made by me. My grandmother says that when she was growing up they had Zwetschgenkuchen every Rosh HaShannah. A full sheet of the sweet plum cake would be carried down the road to the bakery, as it was too big for the oven at home. My grandmother, every year of my life, continues to make it each year for Rosh HaShannah. Last year, I took over for the first time. It makes both of us proud.

Though Zwetschgenkuchen is traditionally made with Italian plums, this time I used the beautiful yellow plums from Week 9 with a handful of brown sugar. I set them into the brioche dough from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and it was perfection.

My grandmother's parents survived and met them in America. My grandfather's parents did not. Jonas and Ilse have 3 children, 7 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Their great granddaughters both loved the fruit soup and zwetschgenkuchen. In the words of the great Dorothy Meyer, "F*#& Hitler."

Zwetschgenkuchen (pronounced in my grandparents' dialect of Pfelsig, "KVETCHE-eh-koo-cheh")
Dough Recipe Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

1 1/2 cup water, lukewarm
1 1/2 T yeast (2 pkgs)
1 1/2 T salt
1 cup sugar
8 eggs
3 sticks butter, melted and cooled
7 1/2 cups flour

4 cups of halved plums
brown sugar
butter to grease pan

1. Combine yeast, salt, sugar, eggs and butter with the water. Blend thoroughly. Add all flour at once. Stir to combine completely, but do not knead. Note: With the Cuisinart, this took 2-3 minutes on speed 2 with the dough hook.

2. Cover dough, and set to rise and fall, about 2 hrs. Dough can then be chilled up to one week.

3. Baking day: Prep plums. Grease two 9 X 13 pans. Divide dough in half. Press into pans. Sprinkle a handful of brown sugar over the top of both pans. Line up plums, skin side up, in the dough. Set to rise for 1 hr.

4. Preheat oven to 350. Baking one at a time or alternating and turning, bake for 45-55 minutes, until top is golden brown, juices are caramelized and toothpick inserted comes out clean.

5. Cool to room temperature and serve with whipped cream. Share and enjoy.

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