Today I had the pastry board and rolling pin out for the first time in years. Was I making a pie, like any normal person would for Thanksgiving? No. I was making kreplach, and I imagine I was the only person in a 20-mile radius (at least) who was doing so.
We always have something Jewish on the table at Thanksgiving. When my grandmother was alive and cooking, she usually made chopped liver for “forshbeis,” which essentially means appetizer. “Before the bite,” or before you really eat is probably what it translates to, because that’s how Yiddish works.
Sometimes she’d make sweet-and-sour meatballs, or chicken soup with matzah balls. If she was bringing a side dish, it was sometimes latkes, sometimes blintzes (I am the only one who seems to remember meat blintzes, because we would never serve cheese blintzes with meat, even though we didn’t keep kosher at all), and sometimes kreplach.
Kreplach are Jewish meat dumplings. They are cooked in salted water or chicken broth and can be fried up with a little chicken fat (shmaltz) before serving. The arrival of kreplach was always cause for celebration at our table; we practically punctured each other with our forks trying to get to them. And my grandmother, who could do no wrong in the kitchen, made the best kreplach.
Though kreplach are the family’s favorite Jewish food, they’ve been the hardest tradition to carry on because they are not as easy to make as, say, latkes. (Chopped liver is easy too, with the advent of the food processor, but no one makes it anymore because it is not particularly healthy). But my grandmother one day showed me how to make them, and I give it a try every few years.
When I think about the day we made kreplach together, I can see my grandmother’s hands and the competent way they handled the dough. (My grandmother, like so many jews of her day, was also a seamstress; she really was talented at any kind of handwork.) As she worked, she unconsciously tensed and relaxed her mouth, emitting pleasant smacking sounds that she always made when at work, whether with a thimble on her finger or a rolling pin in her hand.
It’s strange having a quasi-photographic memory, because I can see my grandmother’s hands so clearly now, down to the wrinkle. But it’s more than that, because I can feel them, too, smooth and warm. Sinking my hands into the dough made me think of her and that day right away. It’s one of two days I can remember seeing her cook—the origin of the marvels that came out of her kitchen were largely a mystery.
Kreplach starts with a dough of flour, egg, salt, and water, which you knead it until it’s well mixed. If you overhandle it, it will become too tough, as it did today. The dough must be rolled out thin—more like pasta than pie crust. Each dumpling is made from a square piece of dough.
Usually the meat filling starts with a leftover piece of flank steak or brisket. I optimistically save leftover meat (which I hardly ever make) and put it in the freezer in the hopes of using it for kreplach or meat blintzes someday. There was a sad piece of meat in my freezer, but I decided instead to cook up some ground chicken, which I food processed with a raw onion, and then mixed in an egg to hold the meat together.
To make the dumpling, put a small amount of meat mixture in the middle of the square, then fold the dough diagonally to form a triangle. Squeeze the edges together, using a bit of water to help seal it if necessary. I think some recipes stop right there, but my grandmother took the two ends and joined them, making a little pocketbook.
You can cook them in boiling salted water or in chicken broth. When they are dropped in the liquid, they sink to the bottom and pop to the surface as they cook.
Here’s the first batch. Making kreplach is a bit of a pahtchke (nuisance, fussy work), but worth it. After I made this batch, I realized I was going to have to tell people “just one,” because the dough made only 20. I hated the idea of uttering those words, plus I had a lot of filling left, so I decided to make another batch. The second dough was a little harder to work with, but I don’t think it got so tough. We shall see. I think the ground chicken worked out well, in any case. The onion is responsible for so much of the flavor.
As I was working with the dough, I was thinking about what I am thankful for. It’s hard to believe with how poorly the year started that I feel I have so much to be thankful for now. Here are a few things, in no particular order.
For my three boys, for the kind, fun, interesting people they are, and for the strength of my relationship with them.
For every day Matthew has had since May, 1996. I am so very thankful to the family who donated their son’s liver, for being so brave and generous during such a devastating time. I am thankful for more things having to do with Matthew’s health than I could list.
For my home, for my relative economic stability.
For every precious hug I get from my 10-year-old,
That my parents are still with me, my family is close by, and that we all can be with each other for Thanksgiving this year.
For having had the opportunity to learn how to make kreplach from my grandmother. I am thankful for every memory I have of her.
For my cousins, for their love and friendship.
I am so sad for the loss of my aunt, but grateful she is at peace after a difficult struggle and for the love and devotion she felt from her three daughters, and for the quality of care she received until the end. I am grateful I was able to say goodbye to her, to tell her how she influenced me, to tell her how much I love her. I am thankful for the joy George, her cat, brought to her, and for having seen the way she lit up when she talked about him.
For the Internet and social networking, which have brought me back in touch with people I never thought I would speak with again. I am thankful for renewed friendships, and for the planned reunion in Italy with my old camp friend.
For my friends—old, new, and in between. For those from childhood (that’s just the one, my dear Julie), my neighborhood, motherhood, my writing group, Little League, college, work—past and present, school, and around town. For ex-boyfriends who are still friends. For my dog, when he’s not barking, and for my cat when he’s not on the furniture.
For my health, for hair that’s still more brown than gray, for genes that are working out okay so far.
Finally, I am thankful for the tools I’ve been given, for an ability that fulfills me and pays the bills, for a brain that can see all sides, for common sense, logic, and practicality, and for any opportunity to use these assets to help someone or make the world even just the tiniest bit better.
And for WordPress’s word count feature, which tells me I’ve written quite enough.
I am thankful to you, as always, for reading.
Love to all,