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More Than a Cookbook, Holocaust Survivors Inspire

September 13, 2022 | by Madi­son Jack­son

A cookbook review of Honey Cakes & Latkes.

When we think about Holocaust survivors, we usually think about extermination camps, death marches, and the loss of family. Yet, when Kathy Marks thinks of Holocaust survivors, she thinks of her late husband, David, and how excited he would have been to hold a copy of the brand-new cookbook Honey Cake & Latkes, 2022 in his hands. A collection of recipes compiled from Auschwitz-Birkenau survivors by the Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial Foundation, this cookbook is more than a guide to making recipes in your kitchen: it is a storybook that uses food and cooking to convey a message we often forget. The people who lived through the Holocaust want to remember more than Holocaust tragedies. They have their own life stories filled with special memories. Like all Jews, they want to talk about food.

From Hungary to Poland, Romania to Germany this cookbook is a Jewish food map for Eastern and Central Europe. The stories that prelude the recipes, written by the survivors themselves, brings the food to life. We learn recipes from pre-war childhood homes and parents, discover the step-by-step instructions for creating a relative’s cherished kugel, cookie, or kreplach, and find out how recipes have lived on for generations. Each recipe is unique because it is imbibed with a local ingredient or a local technique.

For instance, David, who passed away in February at the age of 93, right before he could see the finished cookbook, shares a trick his older sister taught him for how to make Shlishkes, a potato dumpling popular in Hungarian-Jewish households. Hint: the trick involves a way to prepare the dish quickly for a large family. During David’s last few years of life, each night Kathy and David cooked David’s recipes together, and fresh, home-cooked Hungarian food always made its way into a meal one way or the other.

Unlike other cookbooks, this cookbook has 29 authors, whose stories, and biographies we learn from the very beginning. It is the colorful pictures of these authors, cooking in the kitchen with dough and flour laid out before them, that reminds us of the true gem we hold in our hands. Flipping through the pages of the book, and looking at the delectable photos, makes me feel as if I am cooking in the kitchen with my great grandma whom I never even met.

The recipes in Honey Cake & Latkes aren’t just a great educational tool about Jewish food history but are also straightforward to follow. Although they come from years when quantities might not have been used, these authors spent hours in their kitchens translating approximations into exact measurements readers can understand. Some recipes involve extensive ingredient lists, and others, such as David’s Cheesecake Milkshake, are so simple even kids can join in. Each recipe is laid out in an easy-to-use manner, from start to finish.

Stuffed Cabbage was one of David’s favorite recipes. He would wake up in the morning craving it and although it was labor intensive, Kathy explained “it was an incredible, artistic ordeal,” which he always made with a smile on his face. Ultimately, this cookbook serves as a source of inspiration: if Holocaust survivors can still cook, and look at life and smile, than surely, so can we.

Recipes and photos courtesy of Honey Cake & Latkes, Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial Foundation, 2022

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