Excerpts from “Recipes Remembered” A Celebration of Survival” by June Feiss Hersh
(See the Ledger’s interview with the author)
Jules Wallerstein: As told by his wife, Helen
Jules was one of the 937 passengers who boarded the S.S. St. Louis, presumably for safe harbor in Cuba. The fate of this ship has been the subject of books and a Hollywood movie entitled “Voyage of the Damned”. Their story is legendary and their circumstances are still debated today.
My husband, Jules was born in Fürth, Germany. His father owned a jewelry store in town, which on Kristallnacht was ransacked and burned. His father was taken away for two days, and they thought they would never see him again. Miraculously he was returned. My husband’s family had a very successful cousin who lived in America; he owned Bosco, the chocolate syrup company. It was this cousin, Leo Wallerstein, who provided visas for the family to escape Germany. When my husband was twelve years old, his family and a total of 937 people, boarded the St. Louis headed for Cuba. Although they had all filed for and received proper documents, only 37 people were allowed entry when the boat arrived on Cuba’s shores.
When the bulk of passengers were not allowed to disembark, the ship’s captain, Schroeder sailed the boat within sight of Miami. Despite his hopes and the efforts of some members of the American government, the passengers were not allowed to enter the US. The boat was ultimately turned away, and Captain Schroeder began desperately wiring other nations to see who would take these passengers. France, Holland, England and Belgium all agreed to take a portion of the people on board, realizing their fate if they were forced to return to Germany. My husband’s family went to Belgium, and there he lived, and even became a Bar Mitzvah. They lived peacefully with the Belgian people, until the Germans invaded. Jules’ family was forced to run. Jules’ father went to the bank to withdraw their money and unfortunately was stopped and arrested. He was sent to an internment camp in France. Once again, his family reached out to their cousin Leo, and in 1942, they joined his father in France and then came to America.
Three years later, now an American citizen, Jules was drafted into the army and sent overseas to serve as an interpreter and interrogator. He said it felt good this time, “ to be the one with the gun.” To my husband, this was another adventure in his life. He was eighteen and he felt that when he came to this country, everything was new; he had a new life and a new start.
In the year 2000, we received an invitation from a group called The Watchmen of the Nations. They invited us to Canada to be part of a ceremony where the Canadians apologized for not accepting any passengers from the St. Louis. We joined 27 other survivors of the St. Louis at this very moving ceremony. It was a remarkable event. This same group sent us to Florida in 2001 where over 600 people gathered at the site where the ship had been anchored off the coast of Florida. We all said Kaddish and it felt like the hands of the dead were reaching out. We then went with this group to Hamburg, to see where the voyage began. We set out on a boat, and re-enacted the ship’s departure. On the edge of the coast there were Christian Germans waving Jewish flags to honor the survivors. It was unbelievably emotional and moving, we could never have imagined such a sight. Our group also went to Israel and we made our final trip in 2004 to meet with Cuba’s small but active Jewish community. Together we have 2 daughters and 5 grandchildren.
(Since completing the book, I sadly learned that Jules had passed away. We extend our sincerest condolences to his devoted family. May his memory be a blessing.)
Helen Wallerstein’s Potato Latkes
With Helen’s recipe you achieve latke nirvana; a potato pancake that is light and crispy. Helen grates her potatoes on the finer side, but you can shred them if you prefer more texture. Make sure you have plenty of sour cream, applesauce or simply sugar on hand to dunk, cozy up to or sprinkle on top.
Yields: 24 latkes
Start to Finish: Under 30 minutes
-5 medium Russet potatoes, peeled
-1 medium onion, grated (use a large one if you like a strong onion flavor)
-4 eggs, beaten
-½ cup matzo meal
-1 to 2 teaspoons salt
-¼ to ½ teaspoon pepper
-½ cup vegetable oil for frying
In a food processor using the metal blade, or using a box grater, finely grate the potatoes. Place them in a colander, and squeeze out all the liquid. Grate the onion, using the food processor pulse feature to capture any small chunks. Stir the onions, eggs, matzo meal, salt and pepper into the potato mixture.
Heat ½- inch of oil in a non-stick skillet, over medium heat, until very hot (a drop of water should dance in the pan). To test the seasonings before frying the entire batch, (you wouldn’t want to taste the raw potato and egg mixture), drop one tablespoon of the mixture into the hot oil, fry for several minutes on each side and drain on a paper towel. Taste the latke and add more salt or pepper if needed. Now you are ready to make the rest. Drop a generous tablespoon of latke batter into the skillet and flatten the pancake with the back of a spatula. Turn the latkes over when the underside is nicely brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Fry until golden on both sides. Drain on waiting paper towels. Repeat, this process adding more oil to the pan and a touch more matzo meal to the mixture if needed to absorb the excess liquid that will collect in the bowl. Serve hot.
Helen Wallerstein’s Gesundheit Kuchen- Chocolate Cake
Helen calls this cake the “God Bless you Cake”, but you can call it a light chocolate “tea” cake, that is delicious and not too sweet. Drizzling the smooth chocolate ganache over the cake right before serving adds another layer of goodness.
Yields: about 8 slices
Start to Finish: Under 1 ½ hours
-1 stick (½ cup) butter or margarine, room temperature
-4 eggs, separated
-¾ cup sugar
-1 tablespoon zested lemon peel
-½ cup whole milk
-1 tablespoon cocoa powder, plus ½ teaspoon cocoa powder
-1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
-½ teaspoon baking powder
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan
Beat the butter, eggs and sugar several minutes, on medium speed, until light and fluffy. Add the lemon zest, milk and 1 tablespoon cocoa powder and continue mixing.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and remaining ½ teaspoon cocoa powder. On low speed, add it to the egg mixture. Continue beating, on medium speed, for several minutes until all the ingredients are combined. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until the cake is firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Dust with confectioner’s sugar or chocolate ganache (recipe below)
What sounds like such a complicated culinary confection is a simple two-ingredient wonder. Yields: about 2 cups
Start to Finish: Under 15 minutes
-8 ounces heavy cream
-8 ounces semi sweet chocolate or chocolate chips
Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan, just until it is hot, but not scalding, you do not want a skin to develop. Take the pot off the stove and pour the warm cream over the chocolate, whisking to combine. Let the sauce sit and cool for a few minutes. The ganache will be thin enough to drizzle. If you prefer a thicker consistency, reheat and add more chocolate. Cooled thicker ganache can be used as a frosting or filling.
Ruth Kohn:In her own words
Ruth Kohn proudly wears both an American flag pin and a Dominican Republic flag pin on her lapel, something you might not expect from a nice Jewish girl born in Germany. She happily shares her story and why her grand daughter says, ” The sweet Dominican souls” saved my grandma and grandpa.
I was six years old when Hitler came to power. Before then I remember a house where everyone was happy. We lived in Berlin from the time I was four until I was fourteen. My father had a cousin in America who wanted us to come, but my father, an Orthodox Jew, and decorated German soldier felt nothing would happen to us if we stayed. He once said, “If I ever leave Germany, it will be on the last train.” That’s exactly what happened. I had an uncle who was arrested on Kristallnacht. He paid the Nazis for his release. He traveled to Belgium where he was arrested again. This time, he was sent to Portugal, and was detained in a camp. He managed to escape by walking over the Pyrenees to Lisbon. Once in Lisbon, he met with the American Joint Distribution Committee, who told him of Sosua, a settlement in the Dominican Republic. Trujillo, the dictator there, was offering safe haven to Jews who would commit to agricultural work. My uncle accepted the offer and sent visas for us to join him.
I was told we boarded the last train out of Germany. The age restrictions were changed the day after we left, and my parents would not have been able to leave if we had stayed one day longer. We arrived in the Dominican Republic the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. ” OK, now what” we thought? It was very bittersweet. We felt we were out of this world somewhere; the climate and the language in Sosua were so different. We went to a German school, but had to learn Spanish, which was a very good thing. There were certain foods we could not get there, like white potatoes, so we adapted and ate sweet potatoes, fruits like plantains and papayas; all new foods to us.
The Dominicans were very kind, there was no anti Semitism. It was a very strange feeling being able to walk down a street without harassment. When we first arrived, a young doctor from the hospital in town came and took our photos. The pictures were used for our Dominican documents. Years later, I worked as a nurse at that same hospital, and dated that same doctor. I was later told that after he took my picture, he returned to the hospital and told everyone, ” I am going to marry that girl someday.” Six years later he did. He waited for me! We were the first couple married at the Temple in Sosua.
My parents brought me up to be a happy person. I haven’t forgotten anything, but I am happy. I really admire the Dominican people. It was a horrible time, but they brought us through. We went from one dictator in Germany to another in the DR, but the Dominican dictator saved our lives. Many Jews were saved by the Dominicans, 700 in Sosua alone. After the war I said, what now? It was like we were on hold, like you put clothes over the summer in mothballs. But my life now is really a happy ending.
I was married 45 years and have 3 children and 2 grandchildren.
Ruth Kohn’s Arroz con Pollo-Chicken and Rice
This classic Latin American dish is a one-pot-wonder. Juicy chicken, tender rice and a splash of green from the peas and olives make this a hearty and visually satisfying dinner.
Yields: 4 to 6 servings
Start to finish: Under 2 hours
-1 (3 to 4 pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces
-½ cup olive oil
-2 large onions, chopped (about 2 cups)
-1 clove garlic, crushed
-½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
-1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
-½ teaspoon black pepper
-2 cups, uncooked converted white rice
-1 (28-ounce) can tomatoes, with their juice
-1 (10 ½ – ounce) can chicken broth
-1 can green chili peppers, chopped (optional)
-1 cup frozen peas
-½ cup pimento stuffed green olives, sliced
-1 (4- ounce) can pimentos, drained and sliced
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees
Wipe the chicken pieces with a damp paper towel. Heat the olive oil in a heavy, 6 quart Dutch oven, and brown the chicken, in batches, over medium heat, until golden brown on all sides. With a slotted spoon, remove the cooked chicken to a plate.
In the same pot, cook and stir the onions, garlic and red pepper, over medium, heat until golden, about 10 minutes. Stir in the salt, pepper and rice and cook for 10 minutes longer, stirring occasionally, until everything is lightly browned. Stir in the tomatoes and their liquid, chicken broth and chili peppers, if using. Place the chicken back into the pot (do not add the liquid that collected on the plate) and bring to a low boil. Place the covered pot in the oven and bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour.
After one hour, add ½ cup of water, sprinkle in the peas, olives and pimento strips- do not stir. Cover and continue to bake for an additional 20 minutes. The chicken should be tender and moist and cooked through. Serve family style right from the Dutch oven.
Ruth and Vittorio Orvieto: in Ruth’s words
Ruth’s story is very international. From a childhood in Germany, coming of age in Ecuador and a 57- year marriage to Vittorio, an Italian survivor; Ruth’s life experiences have truly covered the globe.
I was born in Breslau, Germany and had one older brother. On Kristallnacht, my sixteen year-old brother was almost taken to a labor camp, so shortly after that my family shipped him off to Palestine. My father was sent to Buchenwald, and my mother went everyday to the Gestapo to negotiate for his release. At that time they would still let him go if she could secure a visa for him to another country. She secured visas for him alone to Shanghai, but he would not go without us. We scrambled and quickly got visas for the entire family to Ecuador instead. We arrived in Ecuador in 1939; I was twelve at the time. Life was very different for us. In Germany, my father was a successful manufacturer, in Ecuador he sold butter. Before leaving we had packed our suitcases with items to use for bartering. When we arrived at the docks to leave Germany, the Gestapo confiscated our bags. We arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador literally with nothing but the clothes on our backs. When I was thirteen, I had to stop school and go to work to help support our family.
In Ecuador, I didn’t consider myself to be German. I had only one dream and that was to get out of there and go to America. I had an affidavit, and I could have gone, but I met and married my husband and we began raising a family. My husband, Vittorio, was born in Genoa, Italy, and left there at nineteen to escape the Holocaust. He often recalled the enormous kindness of the Italian people who helped him board a ship to Ecuador. I always say that was the only good thing Hitler did for me. After my second child was born, I knew I wanted to give my children a better life and a good education. We came to America in 1955, where we had our third child. I never felt German, and preferred to cook the Italian food my husband enjoyed. We were married 57 years and have 3 children, 8 grandchildren and 1 great- grandchild.
Ruth Orvieto’s Risotto
While Ruth’s background is German, her husband Vittorio, favored his familiar Italian dishes. Even when they lived in Ecuador Ruth cooked in the Italian tradition. Risotto was one of her go-to dinners, studded with sweet onions, porcini mushrooms and lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. No doubt, you need to baby-sit risotto a little, while the crunchy outer kernels of the Arborio rice slowly absorb the white wine and hot broth. Be sure to use a dry white that is wine-glass-worthy; never cook with wine that is not good enough to drink!
Yields: 4 servings, as a main course, 6 servings as a starter
Start to Finish: Under 1 hour
-1 (1- ounce) dried porcini mushrooms
-4 to 5 cups vegetable broth
-3 tablespoons olive oil
-1 small onion, chopped (about ½ cup)
-3 tablespoons butter
-2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
-½ cup white wine
-½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
-Kosher salt and pepper
-Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Soak the dried mushrooms in 1 cup of hot water for 30 minutes, and then strain the mushrooms and their liquid, using a small piece of cheesecloth. You should have about ¾ cup of liquid reserved. In a medium saucepan, heat the vegetable broth and add the mushroom liquid. Cover and keep on a low simmer. Rinse, and then chop the mushrooms, pat dry and reserve.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, cook and stir the onions, over medium heat, until they are just softening and translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir 1 tablespoon of butter in the pan, and add the rice. Cook and stir the rice for several minutes. (the rice will go from white to almost clear). Stir in the white wine and cook until the wine evaporates, this should only take a minute or two.
Using the back of the ladle spread the rice out in the pan so it is in one thin layer. Begin stirring in your first ladle (about ½ cup) of heated broth. Keep the heat low; you don’t want to rush this process. When the liquid is almost completely absorbed, stir in your next ladle. Continue adding the broth and stirring until you have used about half the liquid. Stir the reserved porcini mushrooms into the rice. Continue the ladling process until there are about 2 ladles of broth left in the pot. Stir the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and grated cheese into the rice. Test the rice to see if it is al dente, you want it to be creamy but retain a little bite. Add the remaining broth, a ladle at a time until you achieve your desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with a sprinkling of grated cheese, a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of freshly chopped parsley.
Ruth suggests adding 1 cup of thawed frozen peas when you add the mushrooms.
For Risotto Milanese, Ruth would flavor the dish with saffron. Saffron is very expensive, but a little goes a long way. Omit the mushrooms and their liquid; they would overwhelm the subtle flavor of the saffron. Use 5 cups of broth and add ½ teaspoon of saffron to the broth as it heats. When you stir the broth into the rice, you will see the color begin to change to a mellow yellow. Threads of saffron will remain in the finished dish.
You might want to have extra broth on hand as you can never be certain how much liquid the rice will absorb, it can be affected by many variables. Having an extra few cups available will take the pressure off should you need more. However, you can substitute hot water if you run out of broth.
Ruth Orvieto’s Gnocchi Ala Romana – Semolina Gnocchi with Cheese
Ruth’s version of gnocchi, crusty, pillowy rounds of baked semolina layered with butter and Parmesan cheese makes a beautiful presentation and a rich alternative to polenta or baked noodles.
Yields: 4 to 6 servings
Start to Finish: Under 1 ½ hours
-2½ cups whole milk
-¾ cup semolina flour
-4 tablespoons butter; 2 tablespoons cold, 2 tablespoons melted
-1 egg yolk, beaten
-1 teaspoon kosher salt
-¼ cup Parmesan cheese
In a medium saucepan, heat the milk till scalding (the point right before boiling, you’ll see a skin begin to form on the top of the milk). Lower the heat to a simmer and begin adding the semolina, ¼ cup at a time. Stir with a whisk to avoid clumping. Once the semolina is completely incorporated, begin stirring with a wooden spoon; the mixture will look like mashed potatoes. On the lowest simmer possible, cook the semolina for 15 to 20 minutes, it will continue to thicken and when you stir, it should pull away from the sides of the pot. It is done when it is very stiff and resembles wet dough.
Take off the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of cold butter, the yolk, salt and half the cheese. The semolina will become very elastic and completely leave the sides of the pot. Clean and lightly dampen a large counter, or a marble slab. Turn the semolina mixture onto the cool, clean, damp surface and using a wet spatula or rolling pin; spread the semolina into a ½-inch layer. Let the mixture cool for at least 20 minutes. The dough should be cool to the touch before beginning the next step.
Pre heat the oven to 425 degrees and lightly butter the bottom of an 11 x 7-inch rectangular baking dish*. In a separate small bowl, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and reserve.
Using a 1½ -inch round cookie cutter, cut circles from the dough and begin layering them in the pan. Start with 24 rounds on the bottom (4 across, 6 down). Using a pastry brush, brush the rounds with the reserved melted butter and sprinkle a little of the remaining cheese on top. Cut 18 rounds for the next layer, and in a pyramid fashion, place those rounds on top of the first layer, (3 across, 6 down) Brush with butter and sprinkle with cheese. Your next layer will be 12 pieces, (2 across, 6 down) and the final layer will be 6 pieces, right down the center, brush with butter and sprinkle each layer with cheese. You will need to gather the scraps of dough and roll them out again in order to complete the layering. Pour any remaining butter on top and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until the top lightly browns.
* You can also use an 8-inch round or 9-inch square pan, following the same layering patterns. You will need between 60-64 rounds.