Bessie H: Your Life in Food
We saved the best and the most historic interview for last. Regular readers of Tasty Touring might already know and love Adam’s Bubbe from”The Bubbe Chronicles: Eating with Bubbe.” The most common word to describe Bubbe by her family and friends is “Amazing” and that is certainly true. At 99, she reads books by the dozen a month, enjoys spending time with loved ones, and has a great attitude about life in general. I wish for all of you that you are in as great shape as Bubbe and to live as long.
As I was interviewing her, she shared a bit more about her families history and I thought I would share those memories as well before starting the official “Your Life in Food” section:
My father (Adam’s great-grandfather) was drafted into the Russian army at 15. They threw him into jail when he refused to go. He was in a dark place and it affected his lungs. My grandmother got him out after two years. The doctor suggested living near water and they moved to Liverpool, England where the family lived for ten years. My parents got married during the Boer War (1880-1881). Two sisters married two brothers. This was common in those days as families were very close.
If you were given a dollar to buy treats when you were a kid, what would you buy?
I don’t remember getting $1. It cost a nickel for a candy bar. In junior high school, my mom would pack me a chopped liver sandwich. My girlfriend loved it and she would give me 5 cents in exchange. I would buy a candy bar with nuts in the cafeteria.
Was dessert a special treat or a nightly ritual?
My father was a fruit peddler. We had apples often. My father would buy a huge gunny sack of raw peanuts and my mom would roast them in the oven. We ate bananas and oranges when they were in season, along with strawberries and other types of berries. My Uncle Borach and my father were business partners.
We lived in a suburb of Sioux City, Iowa. Dear Abby and her twin sister went to the local school. I think their name was Friedman [Ed. Note: I checked and she is correct]. Anyway, my dad and Uncle Borach had a big warehouse. They would buy goods off the train and put it in their horse-drawn wagon. We had a big picnic table in our backyard and my dad and uncle would pick out the green produce that wouldn’t sell and make it nice and presentable [basically -- ripen them].
What food do you throw out? Do you eat leftovers?
My mother never threw out anything. It makes me sick to even say it [Adam and I laughed when she said this. Bubbe's deadpan delivery is hilarious].
Who did the grocery shopping?
My aunt – who was a widow – opened a small grocery store in her kitchen with staples for the neighborhood. Her husband (who was my mother’s brother) was killed inside a Jewish bakery in Sioux City. There was also a corner grocery store.
What did you feed your kids when they were babies or toddlers? Did you restrict your diet when you were pregnant?
I came home from the doctor and drank a glass of milk the day I found out I was pregnant,. I hated milk all my life. I was a lousy eater. It was during the war and I couldn’t nurse. Lenny (Adam’s dad) was on goats milk. You were only allowed two cans of goats milk a week. Anyone who came into the house would bring me cans of goats milk.
What was your life like as a newlywed?
I lived with my mother and she cooked for us. We lived with her until Morrie got out of the army.
Did you share food with your neighbors?
Once, my mother told me to go to my aunts and come back quick with some salt. I decided to run and even though it was right down the street, I was huffing and puffing and out of breath when I got there. My Aunt Sarah got scared and thought something was wrong at home but I told her between breaths that my mom had just sent me for salt. She said “thu thu” and spit on me – a superstitious thing that Jewish people do.
What did your mom make you when you were sick?
I used to get chest colds all the time. The first order of business would be to take Vicks, wear flannel, and go to bed. My mom made me chicken soup. For the cough, she used to get a Hershey bar, broken up and put on the stove. She put honey in it and stirred it up [sounds like Gogol Mogol!]. When I coughed, I would get a spoonful of medicine. We all used to stand around the store coughing. My brother Hai would stand around coughing – she would say “get out of here!”
Additional posts on “Your Life in Food” can be found here.Tags: bubbe, family, your life in food