As soon as I finished the Betsy-Tacy series, I immediately googled “MORE BOOKS LIKE BETSY TACY PLEASE!!” to stave off withdrawal from all the picnics and sing-alongs and Joe Willards. Various Goodreads pages recommended the All of a Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor so I was able to prolong my literary vacation in the turn of the century. Again, sped read through the books because they’re lovely and obviously written for children, but as a result the books are all sort of blurred together in my head.
The five-book series details the everyday lives of the the All-of-a-Kind family (five girls and later on a baby brother) in the lower East Side at the turn of the century, from weekly library trips to the cherished celebrations of the Jewish holidays throughout the year. The thoughtful descriptions of the holidays and traditions were my favorite part of the book. They’re quite informative for those of us not in the know, and the author includes translations for any Hebrew or Yiddish sprinkled throughout. I learned a lot, and also I WANT TO EAT ALL THE THINGS!
This series, more so than Betsy-Tacy, needs to be reread with the intention of listing ALL THE YUMMY FOODS TO EAT. I tried to come up with a few reasons why the food sounded so good when the descriptions aren’t particularly flowery or fancy.
The allure of the unknown. New foods with non-English names just sound good because they’re unknown and have all the potential. Also considering the good track of the Jewish holiday foods I have tried, they’re given the benefit of the doubt.
It was so cozy in the warm kitchen full of the smell of hot-from-the-oven Haman taschen. Haman taschen is the name given to triangular-shaped cakes filled to bursting with poppy seeds or prunes.
-From All-of-a-Kind Family
Let’s be honest, prunes and poppy seeds aren’t exactly the stuff of salivation. But these cakes are filled to bursting with them, and any dessert filled to bursting is good news. Also they’re hot from the oven. Double good news.
Tradition and context Food reads (and tastes) so much better when it means something, in this case the food is significant in a religious context. It’s all about the setup. The explanations of the beautiful traditions really enhanced the simple descriptions of the holiday food.
At home, the kitchen was warm with the smell of fresh-baked white bread. The room sparkled with cleanliness. The table, which wore only an oilcloth covering all through the week, now had on a snowy white tablecloth. On it stood the brass candlesticks, gleaming brightly from the polishing that Ella and Sarah had given them the day before. They were just in time to see Mama saying the prayer over the candles. The children stood around the table watching her. A lovely feeling of contentment seemed to flow out from Mama to them. First she put a napkin on her head; then placing four white candles in the brass candlesticks, she lit them. She extended her arms to form a circle. Over the lighted candles the encircling gesture was repeated. After that Mama covered her eyes with her hands, softly murmuring a prayer in Hebrew. Thus was the Sabbath ushered in.
-Description of Sabbath, from All-of-a-Kind Family
It almost doesn’t matter what food follows this, you just know it’s gonna be good because it’s special.
The stars must be aligned right now because I happened to check one of my favorite blogs, my name is yeh, as I got online today to post this. Her latest post on funfetti macaroons had a link to this beautiful and interactive and informative feature on 100 Most Jewish Foods. Now please excuse me as I go back to reading about and wanting to eat ALL THE THINGS!!!
One last description:
Tonight’s dinner was like a banquet. Chicken fricassee first. Then came chicken soup in which fluffy kreplech (squares of dough filled with meat) floated temptingly. Uncle Hyman and Lena fell to shoveling vigorously with their soup spoons, drinking down the hot savory liquid with gusto. Roast chicken and carrots followed. And then Mama brought out a steaming noodle pudding, rich and sweet, with lots of almonds and raisins. Fruit compote next, tea, and last of all, sugar-and-cinnamon-topped cookies.
-from Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement chapter, More All-of-a-Kind Family