Part of the mission of the Jewish Food Society is to preserve the dishes that have sustained and nurtured Jews for generations. To that end, we have a submissions page that encourages readers to share their favorite Jewish recipes. This submission from Kim Salazar of Arlington, Massachusetts, came just in time for Shavuot, the harvest holiday that starts Tuesday and mandates the eating of delicious dairy. Behold, Minnie Liebowitz’s cheese blintzes.
Minka Liebowitz, Kim’s grandmother, was born around 1910 in Baranovich, near the Russian-Polish border. She immigrated to Brooklyn in the 1920s along with several of her sisters, was a garment worker, and lived in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, until her death less than a decade ago at the age of 96.
Though Kim was the grandchild, she was the steward of the family recipes. “It was up to me to learn the things that I liked the best because if I didn’t, no one would ever eat them again,” Kim says. “When I was 10 or 11 I made a point of watching and learning as many of my grandmother’s recipes as possible.”
“When I was 10 or 11 I made a point of watching and learning as many of my grandmother’s recipes as possible”
Minnie, born Mitka, came from a poor village and made a point of telling her family so. The blintzes she made were salty, she said, because only the wealthy could afford sugar. “Most other families would serve them with cherry sauce or applesauce,” says Kim. “But she ate blintzes with sour cream because the rich people in town could afford the sugar, but they only had a cow so they couldn’t. When I would see sweet blintzes at restaurants, they were foreign to me.”
Minnie’s made her blintzes with a combination of slightly salty Farmer’s Cheese, drier pot cheese, and cream cheese, a trifecta of dairy goodness, then rolled the filling in homemade paper-thin crepes made from flour, eggs and water, and fried the packets in oil until crisp. In the submitted recipe, Kim advises to heat at least two pans over medium-high heat, because “using one pan at a time takes too long—Grandma and my Great-Aunt Itke did a ballet that featured four pans and two cooks.”
Minnie had plenty of practice. “She used to make blintzes for all the people from the district where she immigrated from,” says Kim. “If they were rich they would have called it a salon, but they were poor, so she would make blintzes for 20 to 30 people and they would sit around and drink coffee all night and eat blintzes.” Among this crowd was the artist Frank C. Kirk, who gave Minnie two paintings to repay her for the times that she fed him when he was down on his luck.
Today, Kim carries on the tradition—”I make blintzes whenever I’m asked.” She even cooked them while living in India a few years ago, improvising with the ingredients that were available to her there. As for the upcoming holiday, “Minnie might have made them on Shavuot,” says Kim. “But I don’t remember making a big deal out of it because she made them so often.”
When Kim eats her grandmother’s blintzes, “I feel that she is at the table with us.” She even taught her daughters, age 25 and 19, the recipe. “They, in fact, are now making them for their friends.”