Bracha Luft remembers her mother cooking in their family kitchen, spending hours chopping, kneading dough, and washing spinach for ketzitzot tered, or fried spinach patties finished in a tart sauce. Everything in her kitchen was made from scratch — and much of it grown in their backyard. During Israel’s era of austerity in the 1950s, her family moved away from Tel Aviv to cultivate a small farm with fruit trees and chickens for eggs. “At the beginning, we didn’t like coming back from school and helping pick strawberries and cucumbers,” Bracha says about her and her siblings. But, it grew on them. “It makes you feel totally differently about food,” she adds.
At 71, Bracha wants to keep the flavors of her mother’s cooking alive, but without the long hours she spent in the kitchen. “You had to slave yourself to do everything in my mother’s days and the generations before,” she says. For Bracha, the key to preserving the dishes and flavors is to make the recipes simpler, so they can be made often. Over the years, she has developed shortcuts for recipes like the spinach patties. She buys pre-washed greens and makes larger patties, so there’s less time spent standing over the stove frying them.
It’s a recipe her mother, who emigrated from Russia to Palestine in 1924, learned from her husband’s sisters who moved to Israel in 1910 from Bulgaria. Their mother passed away before the journey, so “his older sister used to teach my mother how to do these things” she says. The sisters were entrusted with protecting recipes and customs of another country. They “kept all of the traditions of Bulgaria,” she adds, including speaking Ladino.
To keep the recipes and traditions of both sides of her family alive, Bracha along with her sister Regina (whose own recipe and story will appear on the Jewish Food Society’s website soon) gather most Friday evenings at Regina’s son’s home for dinner. The meal is often for a crowd and Bracha doesn’t show up empty handed. “I always come with at least three or four big dishes,” she says. Sometimes, even the spinach patties.