You’ve heard of the Yiddish phrase “bubbe meise,” which roughly translates as a tall-tale. This is my “babka meise” – the history of how The Babka Lady came to be.
I was born Frimet Brach, the tenth babka in a dozen. My mother was raised by Holocaust survivors who settled in Williamsburg after the destruction of their lives and families. They brought their love for authentic Hungarian food—chicken paprikash and goulash, kokosh cake and mandelbrodt—to America, and in turn, my mother imbued her twelve children with a love for these paprika dishes and chocolatey delicacies as soon as they exited the womb.
Like so many of my generation, I grew up in the kitchen. Food, especially baked goodies, was everything in our modest home. If you ask me what I remember from my early years, the memories will invariably involve food.
I remember the first time I bit into a chocolate rugala and the first time I helped my older sister roll out the flaky dough for the apple strudel for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. My mother, a balabusta (homemaker) extraordinaire always had a freezer-full of home-baked goods. But with so many children and so much housework vying for her attention, she couldn’t afford to stand in the kitchen all day; she relied on her growing daughters’ helping hands.
We loved to bake, so much so that we started selling our four-layer chocolate and vanilla meringue cake for engagement parties. My sister started the tradition, and I took over when she got married and left the house.
Our days and months revolved around religious observance and holidays—and for Jews, that means food. Autumn brought the smell of honey and other sweets wafting through the air, and winter was one big pot of grease. I loved it. Every holiday was something to look forward to—the highlights of my year. My mom would bake and cook her way backwards on the calendar, preparing way ahead of the holidays and freezing the food in our enormous freezer in the basement. I would often sneak downstairs with neighborhood friends trailing behind me and surreptitiously make my way through a bag of rugelach, a line of wafer cake, a slice of chocolate babka. Later my mom outsmarted the burglars and installed a steel lock on the freezer.
Life was a comfortable continuum of food, religion, family and tradition.
Today, I am happy to have evolved that tradition. Although no longer part of the shtetl in which I was raised, I fill my own freezer with Hungarian goodies of all kinds.
And of course, I continued to bake babkas and feed my friends. “You should sell these,” they’d tell me through mouthfuls of chocolate molten cake. I shrugged. I didn’t put myself through four years of college in my mid-twenties, with two toddlers at home, to spend my days doing what my mother and sisters do daily with no degrees and non-accredited high school diplomas.
Or did I?
I’ve come to embrace my dual personality—the formally educated and modern writer and creative producer, and the balabusta who loves, above all, to feed people.
So, submit to your cravings, and indulge the Hungarian Jewish mother in me by letting me feed you.
And, Let there be Babka!