“My grandparents ran Ratchick’s, a classic Ashkenazi Jewish bakery on Avenue J and 15th Street in Brooklyn, for decades,” writes cookbook author Julia Turshen in her new book “Simply Julia: 110 Recipes for Healthy Comfort Food.” The bakery closed before she was born, but “I feel like it’s a part of me. It sometimes feels like I miss something I never actually had,” she adds.
Her maternal grandparents Beatrice and Julius, who met in Minsk and fled the pogroms, ultimately made their way to New York City where they opened the bakery that bore their family name in 1948. Everyone in the family worked there. “My mother was one of three sisters and they all worked in the bakery, as did my uncle Marvin and all of my cousins,” Julia tells us. They sold loaves of bread made by her grandfather along with cakes, babka, and cookies made from recipes that came from distant relatives as well as bakers Julius hired.
The family sold the business in the early 1980s, but nearly 40 years later, the memory of their marbled baked goods hold a place in the family. “They sold marble pound cake and marble rye bread at Ratchick's and they were also well-known for their babka, which is its own marbled thing,” says Julia. One of her favorite stories from the bakery is that everyone (but especially her mom and aunt Debby) would strategically pick crumbs from the top of the babka and coffee cakes to devour — and hope no one would notice.
Julia has been asking about her family and their recipes for as long as she can remember. “I'm desperate to know people that I will never actually meet and food makes this very intangible desire feel a bit more in reach,” she says. Inspired by the marble pound cake from Ratchick’s she developed her own marble loaf recipe and added three punches of coconut flavor, which she loves. The recipe, she writes, is “something tied to my past, but also tied to me.”
More from Julia: When food writer Julia’s aunt Renee passed away in 2005, Julia placed an obituary in the New York Times that read: “I will take care of the soup.” In 2017, she shared her aunt’s chicken soup with us. You can try it here.