Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Apartment Living

Anyone who grew up as an apartment dweller knew that aromas are part of apartment living. Whatever was cooked wafted into the hallway, up or down the stairs, and remained until it faded into the walls.

My grandmother made gefilte fish, which in Yiddish means "stuffed fish". At one time, poor  Jewish women skinned the cheapest fish--with great care--and then ground up the flesh. They added onions, eggs, and bread to the ground fish. I guess this fluffed up the innards.

In America no one bothered with stuffing this mixture back into a skin that probably didn't come right off the fish. Instead, the women rolled the mixture into balls or patties and then steamed or boiled the lot of them. This wasn't a quick process-- gefilte fish patties cooked for two hours and the resulting jellylike stock was always served with the fish. The stock quivered on the plate.

 Recipes traveled with immigrants from the Shtetls of Eastern Europe through Ellis Island to New York City. By 1960 most gefilte fish was commercially prepared. Glass jars of patties shoulder to shoulder surrounded by the gelatinous broth saved time.

My grandmother treasured her family recipe. Since she lived with us she cooked gefilte fish in our kitchen.

Once a month the smell of the fish boiling away in a large aluminum pot  took over the apartment building. It  overpowered Mrs. Lorenzo's meat lasagna, ran slipshod over the sweet smell of fresh bread in 3C, and condemned all other aromas into oblivion.

I steeled myself for the onslaught of the gefilte fish's all pervasive odor.

I begged my mother to forbid the cooking of gefilte fish.

I petitioned my mother for money to purchase glass jars of gefilte fish.

Sometime during my freshman year in high school my grandmother Yette tasted gefilte fish from a jar and declared it "almost as good" as homemade-- and  decided to lend her exceptional talent to making gallons of chicken soup.



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