At my family seder, my grandmother’s gefilte fish was legendary and the recipe a closely guarded secret. So you can imagine the crisis that erupted when she decided to go to Israel one year for Passover. No grandma’s gefilte fish. How could we possibility manage? Following an urgent family meeting, my sister Diane was deputized to go to her house and wrangle the recipe from her. It was a daunting task but my sister was highly motivated and can be quite persuasive.
As expected, my grandmother resisted. “I don’t really have a recipe,” she claimed at first.
My sister was unconvinced. “So just walk me through it. We’ll make it together, right now, and I’ll write it down.”
My grandmother looked dubious, even a little upset. “Maybe I shouldn’t go to Israel if this is so important?”
“Nonsense,” replied my sister. “Let’s just get this done.”
And so my grandmother relented. My sister took out her notebook. My grandmother began to speak in her heavily Russian accent: “First you go to the Valbaums. Not the Pathmark. And buy jars of Mother's gefilte fish.”
“Wait a sec," my sister cried. “We’ve been eating gefilte fish from a jar all these years?”
My grandmother then went into a lengthy explanation that essentially described the elaborate doctoring of jarred gefilte fish. Her “secret recipe" involved adding carrots and onions to the pot and re-boiling the fish on her stove. My sister was incredulous.
As you can imagine, it’s become a great family story. But here’s the question: what made her gefilte fish so good when all the while it was jarred fish? Well, the truth is, there’s nothing wrong with store-bought gefilte fish, but I don’t think that’s what it really was all about. We loved our grandmother. She was warmth and pearls and all love for us. Did that inform how her gefilte fish tasted? I think it did.
And as I prepare for two large seders and obsess about what to make, I think I’ll try to channel some of that love and caring for my family and friends into my fluke ceviche with avocado and see what happens.