As Holocaust survivors who thought in other languages, my grandparents sometimes had trouble expressing themselves to me in words, but they knew how to show their love with food.
My grandparents were skilled chefs who were always in the kitchen. They cooked out of small spaces with humble appliances and no special gadgets, yet they delivered the most exquisite, unforgettable meals to their tables. The food they served filled everyone with love and warmth like a great big hug.
My mom's parents were expert bakers, too. They were famous for their Hungarian Dobos Torte (pronounced dobosh) – a 12 layer cake filled with homemade chocolate cream and topped with caramelized brown sugar. They made this cake for birthdays and if there was any left over they would slice and freeze it. To find a frozen slice of Dobos Torte was like finding treasure – we never waited for it to defrost before devouring.
Although he was an accomplished restaurant chef, aside from Dobos Torte, my grandmother never let my grandfather into her kitchen. It was only when she passed away that my grandfather, then in his mid-70s, officially took over the reins as family cook and host – having all of his extended family plus guests over for Rosh Hashanah or Thanksgiving or Shabbos or whenever. He always had something fresh cooking on the stove.
My dad's father, a butcher by trade, was also a skilled professional cook whose nickname, “Chefu,” literally means chef in Romanian. He had the most incredible potato kugel – 6 inches high, crusty on the outside and light as a feather on the inside – rich golden chicken soup made with marrow bones and chicken feet! – and a few specialties like potato sour cream soup. He and grandma cooked and baked and showered their love on us with every morsel.
Now that all my grandparents have passed, I honor their memory each time I cook one of their recipes or welcome friends and family with food. This was a generation that could have withdrawn and been closed to the world. Instead, they decided to engage; to show their love in a way that went beyond the words that sometimes escaped them.