• Nothing says Jewish grandmother like matzo ball soup. Pictured is Eva Engel from Sydney. (Just add Love by Black Inc Books. Photography by David Mane)
“I regard the women in this book as Jewish women with a universal message. That message is you can rebuild your life even when you have lost everything.”
By
Yasmin Noone

29 Apr 2019 - 11:06 AM  UPDATED 1 May 2019 - 6:15 PM

When foreign correspondent, Irris Makler, witnessed her best friend’s mother following a recipe contained within a battered, stained cookbook, her journalistic instinct sung out.

As Makler reveals, the woman was a survivor of the Auschwitz death camp in World War II. “When she came home after the war, she learned that her mother, younger sister and aunt had been killed,” Makler, an Australian journalist based in Jerusalem, tells SBS.

“This cookbook was what she found upon her return. There was very little that remained from her family but the recipe book.”

The significance of the woman’s historic recipe collection reminded Makler that her family hadn’t written down her own grandmother’s recipe for Jewish honey cake before she died. “I wanted to write that family wrong and make sure everybody has their family recipes.”

Inspiration turned to action and Makler soon embarked on a nationwide search for traditional Jewish recipes from mostly female survivors of the Holocaust.

Five years and many taste-tests later, and the journalist has released a new cookbook. Just Add Love from Black Inc Books features a collection of personal stories and recipes from the last generation of Holocaust survivors living in Australia. 

Get Marta Pinhasov's dushpera dumpling recipe right here.

“These women were refugees of World War II. [After the war], some of them didn’t even have a single photograph of their family. But the taste and smell of their food when they got to cook their family recipes – when they finally had a kitchen to cook in – brought back a memory. And that was so strong.”

“I regard the women in this book as Jewish women with a universal message. That message is you can rebuild your life even when you have lost everything.”

The recipes included in the book have been responsible for the preservation of history and culture, empathy, sustenance and love. Scattered among the 350-pages of the cookbook are also touching images of grandmothers (and two grandfathers) in their home kitchens with their grandchildren. Yet, it's the weaving of these images with family recipes and over 20 personal stories that, together, stand as one complete testament to the resilience of Holocaust survivors and refugees.

“What strikes me about all of the women in this book is an amazing strength that they have. They endured things we can’t comprehend. Then they came here with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the recipes in their heads and made a new life.

“I regard the women in this book as Jewish women with a universal message. That message is you can rebuild your life even when you have lost everything.”

How to keep kosher and carry on
Passover or Pesach is nearly upon us (from 19 - 27 April) and that means a plethora of dining dos and don’ts for members of the Jewish faith (and those wanting to join in). From Seder essentials and symbolic nosh, we separate the chametz from the matzo so you can celebrate the holiday season like a Passover pro.

Just Add Love is set out like one long meal – from mezze to dessert – showcasing the food of vanished Jewish communities across Russia, Europe and North Africa. It includes recipes for soups, dumplings, pickled vegetables, breads, fish, poultry and sweets. 

The book even includes a whole section on cooking with yeast: something Makler had always been scared of doing but eventually mastered with the help of Baba Schwartz (who has since passed away).

“[I remember how] she looked at me really sternly and said ‘you have to work and you have to sweat: that’s what you have to do to bake with yeast. But if you follow my instructions, it will turn out all right’. And she was right. I can now make all of these fantastic yeast cakes. They work, they’re gorgeous and they come out of my kitchen.”

"When you cook with your grandmother, you learn a whole lot more than the recipe…You learn love.”

Makler admits that she got very attached to the interview subjects: so much so that she considers them to be an extension of her own family.

“It’s changed my life because I suddenly have a new array of grandmothers in my life which I didn’t before. It’s been an enriching experience because I do love them."

As Makler writes in the book, there's no transformational power stronger than the love of a grandmother, demonstrated through cooking: “when you cook with your grandmother, you learn a whole lot more than the recipe…You learn that the kitchen is the heart of the house: that it turns a house into a home. You learn love.”

Images and recipes from Just Add Love by Irris Makler, RRP $49.99. Photography by David Mane.

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