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The Secret Recipe
Of Bubbie's Gefilte Fish
Special to The Jewish News
EQUINOX DEVELOPMENT GROUP
bruce m. weiss
Ever since I can remember,
Pesach has always been associ-
ated with Bubbie's gefilte fish.
Opening the door to her neat,
compact ranch, we immediately
stepped into a warm, hazy cloud
created by knaidlach soup, roast
chicken and sponge cake. The liv-
ing room was transformed. A long
folding table, covered with a
starched, white linen cloth and
surrounded by 11 folding chairs,
obliterated the rest of the furni-
ture pushed to the room's perime-
ter. Green floral-bordered dishes
of all sizes covered the cloth; blue
Maxwell House Coffee Hagad-
dahs were stacked in a neat pile
near Papa's chair with its over-
stuffed pillow. Small schnapps
glasses waited in a circle. The
Seder plate and Elijah's cup were
in their proper positions.
The service would begin slowly,
Papa chanting to himself in his
own self-educated, Russian-
Yiddish tune. His two sons, my
father and my uncle, were at his
sides, faithfully following.
Every few pages, the sons would
break their own davening to
shush the women at the other end
of the table. The two daughters-
in-law, my mother and aunt, were
byb now whispering quite openly
about clothes, recipes and their
I was the oldest grandchild by
three and a half years. I recall lis-
tening to my mom and aunt's con-
versation, and Bubbie's anxious,
"Can we eat now?" with one ear,
while I diligently tried to follow
Papa's off-key mumbling in my
yellow-and-red Sunday school
Hagaddah. My younger sister,
baby brother and our two wild
cousins were busy too. Uncom-
fortable in their fancy clothes,
bored with the service and having
already said the Four Questions,
they were squirming, sliding
under the table, spilling their
water and about to collapse their
All of a sudden, by some mys-
terious signal I was unaware df, in
the midst of the mumbling, jok-
ing, shushing and kicking, Bub-
bie would appear from the kitchen
truimphant, carrying a large
platter of gefilte fish. Each piece
looked like a large, lopsided, off-
white potato. They were piled
high, floating in a cloudy liquid
with sliced, cooked carrots cascad-
ing around them.
Hagaddahs were collected and
placed on the edge of the sofa. All
attention focused on the fish and
"It's making me cry; it's so hot!"
"Don't take so much, honey."
"Look how beautiful the fish is
"It's so white! So light! So
"Another? You won't have room
for the rest of the meal."
We listened intently as Bubbie
and Papa described the details of
fish and chrain making. How
Papa had to open all the windows,
even though it was raining. How
Bubbie stuffed the fish heads full
of the gefilte mixture for Papa's
annual treat. (Here we would
groan and ask, "Did you eat the
Pesachs followed Pesachs; we
grew up and changed. We moved
to the suburbs; my grandparents
aged. Yet year after year, we
could count on this same, com-
fortable gefilte fish scene.
Even after we began celebrat-
ing Pesach at my parents' spa-
cious home,the long wooden table
elegantly set with crystal, china
and silver, we knew we would
begin with Bubbie's fish.
After Papa died, Bubbie's
spiritual and physical decline be-
gan. She no longer had the energy
A Passover delicacy
serves as one family's
bond, linking four
to make her fish. We were forced
to endure several uninspiring
Pesachs eating canned fish that
my mother optomistically doc-
tored up to look homemade by
placing freshly cut, boiled carrots
on each perfectly rounded, identi-
In 1980, I was married, the
mother of a three-year-old and de-
termined to surprise our family by
recreating Bubbie's fish. Several
Shabbos dinners were spent with
Bubbie discussing the merits of
pickerel versus white fish, sweet
versus sour, and Polish versus
Russian. No matter how carefully
worded my inquiries, I was only
able to extract approximations.
"Use about this much matzo
"Don't use too many carrots."
"You shouldn't cook it too long,
just long. enough."
Armed with Bubbie's in-
structions and every gefilte fish
recipe I could find, I spent one
very fragrant morning up to my
elbows in fish heads, bones, matza
meal and onions. That Pesach, we
at least had the semblance of our
familiar fish discussion:
"It's almost as sweet."
"It needs more salt."
"What type offish did you use?"
"How did you manage with the
It was better than canned, but
not the caliber of Bubbie's.
The next year by father decided
to take matters into his own
hands. He would produce
homemade gefilte fish for our
Seder and also give Bubbie a busy
day and a sense of accomplish-
ment. After all, he could make
terrific dill pickles.
He stood in the kitchen almost
an entire day while Bubbie, sit- -
ting quietly in a chair by the
kitchen table, instructed him in
the Art of Gefilte Fish Making.
That was her last Pesach.
This year, my husband will
babysit our three children while I
run over to my parents' house on
Sunday. My father and I will be
making Bubbie's Gefilte Fish.