Greta Schiffman will be the guest speaker for the Greater Wake County Chapter of Hadassah at an event to celebrate its new community cookbook: l’dor v’dor: from biscuits to briskets. Greta will talk about Jewish food around the world at 7 p.m. Sept. 9 at Temple Beth Or, 5315 Creedmoor Road, Raleigh. The event is free and light refreshments from the cookbook will be provided.
Copies of the cookbook, which features more than 300 recipes from members, will be sold for $20 each. Proceeds benefit Hadassah Hospitals and vital medical research underway in Israel.
Some people think cooking fresh food for their family is a drag. Not Greta Schiffman.
“Cooking has always been a joy and an adventure,” says Greta, a retired kosher caterer who has lived and cooked around the world. “Also, why go out when I can prepare meals better with better ingredients?”
It wasn’t always like that, however. Greta and her sister both didn’t start cooking until they left home as their mother was a bit territorial about her kitchen. “She had a hard time sharing,” Greta says. “She wasn’t a gourmet cook, but she was a phenomenal baker. I think she felt that if she taught us to bake we wouldn’t ask her to help us with our baking.”
Her mother’s baked goods were well known in their hometown of Poughkeepsie, located in upstate New York near the Culinary Institute of America. In fact, when their synagogue would have bake sales, most of her contributions were sold before people ever got through the door.
“Her rugelach and especially her yeast cakes were very good,” she recalls. “She was an ethnic cook who learned from her mother, who was Russian. They used to put up yeast cakes for the Sabbath. I remember that, those yeast cakes would be sitting Thursday night on the radiator when I was a little girl.”
Greta, a former public school teacher, became avid about taking cooking classes, often from chefs at top restaurants. She and her husband, Saul, enjoyed entertaining, which gave her a chance to show off new skills. People often begged for her recipes, saying her food was better than anything they could buy in area restaurants and shops.
As Greta’s skill and confidence grew, she chaired cooking committees for her synagogue and civic organizations. It became a constant in her life when, as her husband’s career advanced, they moved every few years.
In the 1980s, when the Schiffmans lived in Tampa, Fla., she quit teaching and started baking and cooking for friends at her new temple. Before long, she partnered with a woman to create Simply Delicious, a kosher catering business. The start-up was flourishing when Saul was transferred to Japan.
“I told him he’s ruining my life,” quips Greta, who soon found work teaching English to women through Western cooking classes. “I learned a lot about Japanese cooking and traditional ikebana floral arranging, but all they wanted to know was how we cook and entertain in the US.”
When they returned to the states, the Schiffmans moved to Raleigh. She worked part-time baking for a small catering business that grew into the Tuxedo Café at the old North Hills shopping center. When the business was sold, she started baking at the Irregardless Café.
Raleigh remained their base while Saul’s career took them back to Japan and later to Australia. They are both retired now.
“I’ve always found cooking very therapeutic, especially baking,” she says. “But I’ve worn out my hands. I’ve had two hand operations. Also, my husband was tired of his car always smelling like food.”
Greta was always protective of her recipes while working as a caterer, but she has shared several of her best that are included in l’dor v’dor: from biscuits to briskets, the new community cookbook published by the Greater Wake County Chapter of Hadassah.
“I am happy to be part of it,” says Greta, whose three daughters are excellent cooks like their mother. “It’s a really wonderful thing to add l’dor v’dor to my collection of cookbooks. I have books from different Jewish organizations, including National Hadassah, and one from my temple in Poughkeepsie from many years ago that I still use all the time.
If you are unable to attend the Sept. 9 event but would like to order copies of l'dor v'dor: from biscuits to briskets at $20 each, send a check made out to Greater Wake County Chapter of Hadassah to: Rita Kessler, 10504 Parsley Court, Raleigh 27614. For information about our Hadassah chapter, please visit our website or follow us on Facebook.