Grandma Berman
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Grandma Berman’s Story

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I think I was about 10-years-old when I was visiting my Aunt Bettye. At that time, my grandma lived with her, and she was making chicken soup that day.

“Grandma, how did you learn to cook?” I asked.

“Mostly I vatch my mudder,” she said in her Latvian accent.

I’d ask questions while she was cooking. She’d show me what she was doing and how she was doing it.

I never saw her measure anything, so I asked, “How do you know how much of everything to put in the pot?”

“Vell, after long time cooking, vatching my mudder and tasting as I go, I just know vhat to do.”

The visitor

I have no idea how this came to happen, but some months later, someone from a cookbook company was invited to my aunt’s house to watch my grandma cook the soup and record the recipe. The visitor came in with my aunt and was introduced.

“It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Berman,” the visitor said. “And thank you for showing me how to make chicken soup.”

“Is easy. You’ll see.”

Grandma had everything already out on the kitchen table. “First, you have to peel and cut onions and sauté in some grease.” While she’s telling him, she’s peeling and quartering the onions.

“Do you always put in three onions?” he asked.

“Vell depends on size of onions and how many people gonna eat da soup.” He writes something in his notebook.

While the onions are being sautéed, she begins to peel and cut some carrots, followed by peeling and quartering turnips. Again, he asks, “How do you know what size to cut the carrots and turnips?”

Many More Questions

“Not too small ‘cause will cook too much, but not so big does not cook enough,” she replied. “Now onions is sautéed enough, so gonna add vater.” She takes a pitcher from the counter and fills it to pour in the pot.

“How do you know how much water to put in?”

“Vell, you know gonna put in odder ingredients, so you gotta leave room,” she says while muttering to herself (Vhere dey get dis moron?).

“So now you gonna add da carrots and turnips. Vait maybe five minutes and den put in celery stalks. You chop like dis, (she demonstrates). Last you put in chicken.”

He can see she’s already cut up the chicken, but asks, “Is that one or two chickens?”

“Today is just von ‘cause making for family. But if company coming, you gonna want to make more. Now, ve gonna let simmer maybe 20 minutes. You gotta vatch it, doh, and keep skimming when scum comes to top.”

When it was time, Grandma lowered the flame and said, “Now, ve put in bay leaves, parsley, celery seed, salt and pepper.” She does this all the while tasting as she goes.

“How do you know how much of these ingredients to add?”

Grandma kind of shakes her head and says, “You gotta taste as you put in each ting to get it just right. Now you done. Just cover and simmer.”

“How long do you cook it?” he asked.

She gave him her most disgusted look. “Dummy, ’til it’s done!”

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Read more by Linda Miller.

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