Gabrielle Rossmer Gropman and her daughter Sonya Gropman wanted to preserve one of the few aspects of German-Jewish culture that the Nazis weren’t able to destroy.
Write The German-Jewish Cookbook (Brandeis, 2017), which combines personal memories with recipes and a side of history — all meant to carry on their culinary traditions.
“Immigrants need to have the food of their homeland. Food is the primary tie that people have,” says Sonya, who was interviewed along with her mother by phone last week.
The Florida Holocaust Museum in downtown St. Pete celebrates the customs that Sonya and Gabrielle have been working to maintain at Pass the Plate — the museum’s spring cook-off now in its fourth installment — from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday. The cook-off will feature a tasting from the authors who are set to demonstrate two recipes: cabbage slaw and matze kaffee, a coffee-based dish that’s eaten like cereal and traditionally served at Passover.
Pass the Plate celebrates history, heritage and food annually. This year, The German-Jewish Cookbook will also be available for purchase, in addition to a book signing. Attendees are encouraged to contribute a classic family dish for sampling; to submit a recipe or reserve a seat for the free event, give the museum a call (see details below).
Many families, like Gabrielle’s, emigrated from Germany to the United States at the beginning of World War II and were pressured to assimilate into American culture and leave their own behind. The mother-daughter duo say that, at the time, Germans in the U.S. kept to themselves to avoid folks thinking they were associated with Nazis. One tradition that German-Jewish immigrants could bring with them from home, however, was their food. Physical possessions were often left behind, but dishes were transported by memory, according to Gabrielle.
Sonya feels that the sense of smell — and therefore taste — is the strongest of the five senses. Smell has the power to transport someone back to a certain place or memory. When people smell food, they get an automatic association with the meals they shared with their families, and this triggers a sense of nurturing. Living through taste brought immigrants home in a time of forced abandonment.
Protecting themselves from scrutiny, German-Jewish immigrants held their culture and customs close, which had the unwanted effect of traditions disappearing through the years. Sonya points out that German-Jews are a minority within a minority, so their culinary traditions are not as widely known. As second- and third-generation German-Jews, she and Gabrielle recognize the unfamiliarity of their customs, and that’s another goal of the book — to bring German-Jewish traditions out from the shadows.
Sonya, the initial force behind the cookbook, knew that she and her mother were the perfect team because of their contrasting perspectives and experiences with German-Jewish traditions. While they may have generational differences when it comes to the aesthetics of the book, they can both agree that it’s meant to preserve and document their culture.
Recipes, after all, keep traditions alive.
Kate Walker is a mass communications major at USF St. Petersburg.