Shavuot… Such Dairy Good Memories

Although Judi Permut lives in Israel and I live in Toronto, we share many common memories despite the fact that we’ve never met. We’re both originally from Winnipeg and we both love to cook. Apparently, our mothers knew each other before Judi’s family made aliya to Israel over 30 years ago. Even our grandparents knew each other.

When Judi and I began corresponding by email this past winter, my mother told me an amazing story which surprisingly, I’d never heard before. Apparently, my zaida (grandfather) had wanted to marry Judi’s baba (grandmother), but she refused him and married someone she had known since childhood! Such curious twists of fate – her zaida could have been mine if things had turned out differently, but then I wouldn’t be me and she wouldn’t be her!

Judi and I “met” several months ago in cyberspace. She emailed me asking for advice on writing a cookbook using her late mother’s recipes and memoirs. Judi’s mother, Ruby Permut z”l, was a food maven par excellence, which was validated by my mother, who declared, “Ruby Permut was always an excellent cook and baker!”

Ruby taught international cooking classes and also wrote articles for several Winnipeg Jewish newspapers right up until the time she passed away. A year or so before she died, Ruby had started to collect her articles, papers and clippings, wanting to publish them in a cookbook of her 25 years as a food writer. Sadly, she never fulfilled her wish. Encouraged by close friends and family, her daughter Judi has decided to publish it in her mother’s memory.

Judi wrote, “The book won’t be just a cookbook, because when mom wrote her columns, there were always small stories that went along with each recipe, giving it its special character. Some of these stories are from the north end of old Winnipeg and bring back a lot of nostalgia. Some stories are from my mother’s roots in Russia and her family or from people she met along her way. Mom always gave credit if a recipe wasn’t hers and at times even had a story how and why that person gave her the recipe.”

Here are Judi Permut’s special memories of Shavuot, along with some wonderful recipes from her late mother’s collection that she plans on including in the book. Enjoy the flavor of nostalgia!

“Shavuoth for us was a double celebration. Erev was Baba Dvora’s z”l birthday, so we used the holiday to celebrate her birthday. Mom made things that she liked and her birthday cake was actually cheesecake with a different topping each year. (A family argument ensued each year of whose cheesecake recipe was better, my mom’s, Betty Wohl’s or Betty Muttner’s). For those who didn’t like cheesecake, like me, there was always my mom’s famous apple pie.

“One story that Baba used to tell us about her life as a child in Kopatkevichi is that even though she was the second eldest, this was the only holiday that she didn’t have to work hard or wash the “mud” floor of their house because it was her birthday! And then she would go into explaining how to wash a mud floor!

“We decorated the living room/dining room with greens and flowers because of it being the holiday of the first harvest. Mom would make blintzes with different kinds of fillings: cheese, rice and cheese, and fruit-filled (cherries, blueberries and apple).

“She always started the meal off with two different kinds of cold borscht, depending on what you liked. Always available was beet borscht served with sour cream and cucumbers slices and also a sorrel one which was a bit bitter, but great.

“She made a point of serving fish in some way – usually baking fish in vegetables. There were also different kinds of kugels. Actually, one noodle kugel had apples and cheese in it. The recipe came from a relative of dad’s in the States. There was a “foileh” (lazy) knische recipe which belonged to a relative of mom’s (Minnie Shurvel Libin), who had moved to Calgary. It was wonderful.

“In going through papers I have discovered things that I never knew she wrote and a lot that has brought back heavy memories for me… almost to the point of bringing tears to my eyes. This has definitely been a walk down nostalgia road.”

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

1 package dry cottage cheese (about 1 lb.)
1 tbsp. butter
1 egg
pinch of salt
1 tbsp. sugar

Batter: Cream butter and sugar well. Add eggs, milk, sifted flour, salt and baking powder. Mix well. Pour 3/4 of the loaf batter into pan. (It’s not marked on the card, but from memory, Mom used a 9×13 inch pan, I think.)

Combine ingredients for filling. Place filling on top. Pour balance of batter on top. Bake at 350°F for approximately 1 hour.

FOILEH KNISHES (Minnie Libin z”l (Shurvel) of Calgary )
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup crisco shortening
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sugar

Cut butter and shortening together with flour and salt, using a pastry blender. Add sour cream, baking powder and sugar. Work with your hands to make a soft dough. Wrap in wax paper and keep it in fridge overnight.

Cheese Filling:
2 lbs. dry cottage cheese
3 eggs
salt and sugar, to taste

Combine ingredients for filling and mix well.

Divide dough into 6 portions. Roll out thinly. Fill dough and form into long rolls. Place on a greased baking sheet and cut into individual knishes, but don’t cut right through. Bake at 350°F for 3/4 hour, until golden brown.

CHEESE MUFFINS (Betty Wohl, Winnipeg)
2 eggs
1/2 cup melted butter
3 tbsp. sugar
1 cup flour
Pinch of salt
2 tsp. baking powder
12 oz. pkg. cottage cheese

Mix eggs, butter, sugar together. Add flour, salt and 2 tsp. baking powder. Add cottage cheese and mix well. Pour into greased muffin tins. Bake at 350°F to 375°F for 15 to 20 minutes.