My mother and her only sister married my father and his closest brother. Our two families lived a few blocks apart and the brothers were business partners. From the mid 1940s through the late 1960s my father and his other two brothers and three sisters also lived within walking distance. Parties were at the core of family life. Entertaining was also an important part of the brothers’ schmooze for their real-estate business. The women set a fine table, and my mother and aunt could make each one of the guests in a house full of people feel like they were the center of the party.
Every couple of months my mother Bernice, my Aunt Sylvia, and our cook Valerie would get together to make strudels, apple or bing cherry, and kreplach, filled either with beef or cheese. Dress boxes were the perfect size to store three strudel rolls at a time in the freezer, and the dumplings were packed in hat boxes; supplies for unexpected dinner guests and parties at any of the houses.
Val was in charge of the basic prep and all the doughs. For the strudel, the kitchen table was covered with an old linen tablecloth. She would open the dough with her rolling pin and then stretch it by hand until it was as thin as tracing paper, covering the entire kitchen table. My job was to walk along side of the table sprinkling the dough with cinnamon, sugar, and chopped walnuts. Back again, drizzling with melted butter. For the final pass, I layered on the apples or cherries, depending on the season. Using the tablecloth as a guide, Val formed the rolls and my mother and aunt cut and packed.
The dough for the kreplach was basically egg pasta dough, which Val rolled by hand and then cut into squares. I dotted the filling on the dough and she folded the meat or cheese dumplings into neat little bundles. My mom and my aunt sealed them with beaten egg and carefully packed them for the freezer.
I never learned the knack of stretching or rolling those very fine doughs. Today I am more likely to make Spanish tapas or Vietnamese appetizers than strudel or kreplach. What I did retain was the feeling of camaraderie, the warmth and pleasure that can come from working together on a big project in the kitchen.
My friend Toula and I just loaded our freezers with Vietnamese pork and shrimp spring rolls, Mexican-style empanadas filled with spicy beef picadillo, and Mediterranean dolmades, grape leaves stuffed with rice, currants and dill. Had I tried to stock up by myself, the task would have seemed arduous, overwhelming. With Toula, we wrapped and rolled. We talked about everything and anything under the sun and got the work done. If you can, get together with some family or friends, lay in your supplies, and treasure the companionship.