My Grandmother’s Kitchen

By Ferida Wolff (Cherry Hill, NJ)

My grandmother’s kitchen smelled of
allspice and cloves,
hot frying oil,
pungent sour salad
all mixed up with summer heat
and years of family dinners.

Give me the recipes,
Grandma, I begged
as I sniffed at the pots
on the old-fashioned stove.
She smiled her Mona Lisa smile
and told me to take
a glass of this,
a soup-plate of that,
mix it and fry it
and there it is;
no magic about
the nose teasing smells,
the tongue pleasing tastes.

But when I tried it
somehow mine wasn’t the same.
Perhaps my soup-plate
was too big or
too small.
The pinch of salt
she neglected to mention
made a difference
though not enough –
something was missing.
When I asked her why
she shrugged with innocence.

It took me years to discover
that the food she cooked
was her gift to us,
our inheritance,
her life reflected
in the shimmering oil
of the frying pan.

Ferida Wolff’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Moment Magazine, Midstream, Horizons, and Woman’s World, among other periodicals. An author of seventeen books for children and three essay books for adults, she has also contributed stories to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series and HCI’s Ultimate series, as well as online at and as a columnist for You can visit her website for more information: or her blog at

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Filed under American Jewry, Family history, Jewish identity

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