ISA ROUKIN, her mother Susan Roukin and grandmother Jackie Weintrob do something extraordinary. They cook together. When generations lived under one roof — sharing household chores and sitting down to meals together — it was less rare. Recipes were passed down from mother to daughter.
Today, with most extended families struggling to get together once a week, there is little opportunity for mothers and daughters to share kitchen time. But the trio still regularly shop for food and prepare meals together.
“If I go to Waitrose or to Menachem’s (a Golders Green butcher) without my mother, the shop staff want to know where she is!” says Susan.
Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday is spent together. The last devoted to preparing their Shabbat meal. Each has an established role. Skills and traditional recipes have been passed on and they continue to learn from each other.
Jackie — an elegantly youthful 90 years old — first learned to cook from her mother, Esther. “I was about 17 when I started helping at home,” she recalls. “My mother was a traditional but very good cook. She made wonderful stuffed neck and chopped herring, delicious sour cabbage with baby meatballs and sultanas in it and wonderful halibut in lemon sauce. We always
SUMMER 2013 made chopped liver every weekend and roast chicken, lokshen soup, roast potatoes and apple pie each Friday”.
Esther and Jackie did not follow recipes and measurements. The recipes were in their heads.
“I continued to cook my mother’s recipes,” says Jackie. “I wasn’t adventurous but, like her, stuck to a routine of certain dishes on particular nights of the week. Chopped meat on Monday, escalope Wednesday, chops on another day. We never used recipe books. If we’d enjoyed something at someone’s house, we would ask them for the recipe.”
And in her day, haimishe cooks stuck to salt and pepper for seasoning. “We never used fresh herbs, I’d had not even heard of coriander and I’m still not keen on them — especially rosemary,” she says.
She and many of her contemporaries did make use of the latest mod cons though, happily adopting a pressure cooker when that came on to the market —“They were all the rage” she remembers.
Jackie’s food memories are also of truly seasonal eating. Her eyes light up when she recalls her first tastes of cucumber and tomatoes each year, which were often the same time as Pesach. “They tasted so good then, I have still never tasted a tomato like I did years ago,” she remembers.
Her training in her mother’s kitchen was a good one though. Neither daughter nor granddaughter has bettered her fried fish and both agree that no one cleans a chicken as thoroughly as her.
Susan also did not begin to cook until what would now be seen as relatively late. “Children just didn’t go in the kitchen when we were young,” says Jackie, “as there were knives and hot pans. You never would have considered them helping.”
So although 67-year-old Susan says she was interested in cooking, she didn’t get involved until her early 20s.
“When I married my husband at 26 I had to learn to cook well. He is a huge foodie and his mother was an amazing cook. The first thing he does when he walks into the house each night is go straight to the fridge,” she laughs.
It was Susan’s generation who started to look further afield for inspiration. Susan took recipes from Jackie, from her girlfriends but also found from books. “I used Evelyn Rose and the other standard Jewish cookbooks, but there was also a book at the time called The Way to a Man’s Heart, which had lots of great recipes,” she smiles.
For Susan, cooking is all about for whom she is cooking. “I cook from the heart and if I’m not happy it shows in my cooking. I don’t often use recipes any more but cook with my senses — tasting, feeling, seeing if something is right.” she explains. She also claims to be unadventurous — “I stick with what I know” she smiles.
Now there is a new head chef. As soon as Lisa could stand she wanted to help in the kitchen. And times had changed by then: “I used to give her butter, sugar and flour to play with when she was six,” laughs Susan.
And the young Lisa’s interest was developed and heightened as she watched and helped her mother and grandmother in the kitchen as they worked together. “I would sit at the kitchen counter helping roll meatballs and watching,” recalls Lisa. “I could live in the kitchen and cook all day long.”
“Now, she tells us what to do,” teases Jackie. Her mother admits she initially found it hard to step aside in her kitchen, but the three clearly have made it work.
The two older women continually praise Lisa’s cooking skills, saying: “Her love of cooking makes her the best, and she has learned from us!” Lisa’s passion for food grew to such an extent she attended London’s culinary school Le Cordon Bleu in 2008 before spending time in several professional kitchens.
She also worked at kosher caterers Tony Page and Schaverien, as well as Le Caprice and The Ivy, either in the kitchen or involved in events planning.
Although she has now had professional training, much of her inspiration is still from home. “I’ve learned about seasoning from my Mum — she seasons perfectly. She always used garlic granules and I’ve taken that on board for many of my recipes.”
Lisa feels that many girls of her generation are not learning to cook at home as they don’t spend time cooking with their mothers or grandmothers. Our heritage is in danger of disappearing, she says — “The generations are not passing it on”. For this reason she has started teaching cooking. “I want to be an inspiration to my peers, especially in the Jewish community” she explains.
The three women should be an inspiration to us all. How better to keep our traditions going strong than to pass them directly from one generation to the next. For details of Lisa Roukin’s motherand-daughter cookery demonstrations email email@example.com