For cookbook author Lynn Kirsche Shapiro writing Food Family and Tradition was an opportunity to tell her family’s story through her mother’s recipes and a family history begun as her late father’s autobiography. A true labor of love.
The first part of the book is a heartfelt family memoir including individual biographies with period photos and fascinating remembrances in historical context about Jewish life, culture, and traditions from the early 1900’s in Eastern Europe to the current day in the United States. A family tree designates both the names of survivors and victims of the Holocaust. The second part of the book consists of heretofore unpublished and often unwritten family recipes that also bring the family story alive.
Diva Foodies: Food, Family and Tradition is an extremely personal book—so much more than simply a cookbook. The story of your family and the history of traditional Jewish life in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust really wrap the recipes in your book in an extra layer of richness. Could you please share with our readers how the idea of creating a cookbook from your mother’s recipes and the desire to complete your father’s autobiography came together into one journey that led to Food, Family and Tradition?
Lynn Kirsche Shapiro: So much of my life and my parents’ life stories centered around food. And around stories, as my father was a most captivating storyteller. As I was thinking of both, it occurred to me that I could tell their stories through food and through the stories they had attached to the dishes through the years. I was determined to bring the stories I heard from my parents while cooking or eating these dishes, to life. Additionally, I thought it would be a most fitting way, especially for our family who is so steeped in cooking, to fulfill my father’s reason for writing his autobiography, “to instill the truth of what took place…the atrocities of gassing people who were conducting a normal life.”
Diva Foodies: Just curious, did you begin this book with compiling the family history or gathering the recipes? And how long did it take you to identify the recipes that you wanted to use and then adapt them for the “modern cook”?
Lynn Kirsche Shapiro: My mother had no written recipes, yet her measurements for cooking and baking were very precise and consistent. When she lost her eyesight (at age 75), I began translating with her help, the recipes from “a pinch” and “ a handful”, and recording, them for the family.
I began the project in earnest about a year after my father passed away. It took me about 2 years to develop and test the recipes and then adapt them for the “modern cook”. I tried to include most of the recipes that are typically Hungarian or traditional to the Jewish holidays.
As I compiled and tested the recipes, each dish evoked a momory, a story that I had attached to the dish in my mind through the life stories my parents had related to me throughout my life. And as I began attaching stories to recipes, my mother remembered more and the stories expanded. I also connected with family all over the world, and with other survivors from their hometowns to discover more details of my family’s history and lives.
Diva Foodies: You wrote that writing about the journey of your family has been a journey for yourself. Did you learn things about your family history that you were unaware of and that influenced the actual writing of your book or the recipes that you chose?
Lynn Kirsche Shapiro: As I began the journey of this project, I learned so much, which absolutely impacted the writing of the book.
My cousins, Ibi Gelb and Irving Weinberger, whose mother was my father’s sister, shared many family recipes with me. While working together on these recipes, they recalled their life growing up in Munkács in the Soviet Union, where it was extremely challenging to observe Jewish traditions and laws. I felt compelled to relate their life story, of all those who survived the Holocaust and lived in post World War II Munkács. This enriched the book, and added an additional layer of history.
As my mother confirmed stories, and remembered more, I learned more. The more I learned, the more vibrant and detailed the stories became. This was exciting and enriching, and at the same time, it became harder to cut and edit the stories.
I am so happy with the final product today; I believe it captured the essence of the history and the tradition.
Diva Foodies: Do you have a favorite recipe of your mother’s and a favorite remembrance that goes with it that you could share?
Lynn Kirsche Shapiro: I would have to say that my favorite recipe is Chicken Paprikás. It is one of my mother’s signature dishes, which she prepared often for dinner. The aroma of the dish welcomed me even as a young child coming home from school.
The setting for the story began after my mother was liberated. Making her way back to her hometown, she thought that she was the only member of her family to have survived. Then, six months after returning to her hometown, she heard that her brother, Morton, had survived and was living in Freising, Germany. She started on her way to find him and stopped in Budapest at a friend’s apartment.While cooking Chicken Paprikás for dinner at her friend’s apartment, she heard a knock at the door. Because her friend was busy, my mother went to open the door. Before her eyes stood her brother. He had heard that my mother was alive and was on his way to find her, so he had stopped at the same friend’s place on his way. I get the chills each time I hear this story. To me this recipe symbolizes home and family. Even today, the aroma of this dish wraps me in the wonderful comfort of home.
Diva Foodies: We noticed that you have a blog and a Facebook page for your book. How have you used social media to promote your book?
Lynn Kirsche Shapiro: Through the use of social media, I have expanded the scope of the book in a few directions. I have been able to share and develop recipes and to let people know about book events that are happening. Additionally, through social media I have been able to tell stories and share memories, to begin building a community around the book. My book is not the whole story; it provides an avenue for sharing and for learning, for sharing memories, history and tradition, through the lens of food. I encourage everyone to connect with me through my Facebook page and my website, and share family stories, connect through recipes and common traditions and shared heritage.
Diva Foodies: You have 4 children and 9 grandchildren. Do they share your interest in cooking and/or are they involved in the family business, Hungarian Kosher Foods?
Lynn Kirsche Shapiro: Everyone in the family shares a love of cooking and pride in our family business. My grandchildren feel very honoured when they can work at Hungarian Kosher Foods, stocking the shelves, learning to cook. We continue today, 4 generations, cooking together and telling stories and reminiscing together.
Diva Foodies: Do you have another cookbook or project in the works?
Lynn Kirsche Shapiro: I have two new cookbooks plus another project also in the works. I would like to build on this book in two directions. First, I would like to continue another cookbook, through the stories and recipes of the survivors and family members I have contacted so far, to expand the tradition through the lens of food. Also I have begun to move to the new generation, building from the past to the future, with our new family recipes. And I would love to see my daughter, Rocky, complete the project she began together with my father, his autobiography.
Diva Foodies: As you travel the country promoting your book, is there one question or topic that comes up most frequently? How do you answer it?
Lynn Kirsche Shapiro: I am often asked, “how does your mother feel about this book?”
It is difficult for my mother as she cannot see, but this project has given her new energy. She has been invested in helping me test and develop the recipes and has searched deeper into her memory. She feels proud that these recipes will live on, and is overwhelmed by the emotional support and respect she has received. And I am certain that my father would feel proud that much of his vision has been fulfilled.
Diva Foodies: As is our tradition, we’re tossing the virtual mic back to you. wrap it up any way you’d like.
Lynn Kirsche Shapiro: My hope is that my book, which has inspired me, inspires everyone to go back to your family and to delve into your own history and traditions. I hope this becomes an enriching journey for everyone. I ask each of you: Please share share your memories and share your recipes. with the community we are building.
Disclaimer – we received a complementary copy of the book; however, all opinions are those of the author of the post.