By Hannah Berman

Recently, my oldest grandson asked if I would teach him how to make my onion cookies. “Cookies? They are not cookies! We call them tzibbeleh pletzlach or tzibbeleh kichlach. But we do not refer to them as cookies.”

I could tell by his unenthusiastic response to the comment that he wasn’t overly concerned with what they are called. He just wanted to learn how to make them, and he realized that he would need to do that in my company. After some discussion, we settled on a Sunday morning at 9 a.m., and I willingly gave up my Sunday mah-jongg game in order to do this with him. As much as I love mah-jongg, what is more important than sharing an experience with a grandchild?

My first big surprise came when he waltzed in my door at exactly 9 a.m. This beloved grandchild has never been known for punctuality. When I mentioned to him how surprised I was to see him at exactly the appointed hour, he chuckled and said, “Savta, I’m on time because I’m determined to turn over a new leaf.”

“A leaf?” I exclaimed. “In your case, this is more like turning over an entire tree!” We both chuckled and then we settled down to the business at hand.

I had prepped the kitchen earlier by setting out all of the ingredients. The very few ingredients for these pletzlach are: flour, baking powder, grated onions, coarse salt, oil, eggs, and poppy seeds. That’s it! I also made available several tinfoil cookie sheets, measuring cups and spoons, a sharp knife, a very large bowl, and a clear glass to check the eggs for blood spots. I haven’t actually seen a blood spot (or, as my father used to call it, a blitzdrof) in years. Nevertheless, I faithfully check each time I crack open a raw egg.

I suggested that he remove his nice sweater before we got started as I knew from experience that once we would begin to work, the flour would go everywhere and get all over everything. It always does! This could have something to do with the fact that my recipe, which was handed down to me from my mother and her mother, calls for three to five pounds of flour.

It would be nice to say that we worked side by side. But we did not. Due to severe pain from spinal stenosis, I am unable to stand for longer than a few minutes. So my beloved grandchild did the standing, and I sat and directed.

I taught him how to knead the dough, showed him to roll it out by starting from the center and rolling to the edges. I don’t own a diamond-shaped cookie cutter, so I demonstrated how to make long diagonal slices in two directions in order to get diamond-shaped pieces. But the most important lesson I gave to him was that he is never to give these to people who never ate them before and never even heard of them. These are not people who care about them. If anyone says to you, “Onion cookies — what are those?” just snatch them away and never offer another piece to that person. This is a European delicacy that has been handed down through the ages to just a very few people and is never to be wasted on anyone who thinks of them as something similar a salty chip.

Our baking experience totaled close to four hours, but that included waiting for each sheet of pleztlach to finish baking. While they were baking, he washed the bowl, knife, measuring spoons, and cups, and he wiped down the plastic tablecloth on which the dough had been rolled out.

The experience was delightful. It brought back a memory of a vastly different baking experience I once had with several very young grandchildren. My daughter, the mother of these kids, had suggested I might want to teach them how to make hamantaschen for Purim. It sounded like a great idea. She dropped them off at my house and we got to work. One child said it was OK with her if we made prune or mon-filled hamantaschen, one wanted to make them filled with apricot or raspberry jam, and the others wanted to use only chocolate filling.

These kids lived in a home where television was verboten. The only TV in their house was the one located in the housekeeper’s room, and they were not allowed in there. But I never thought much about that. As we went about our prepping and baking, in no time the kitchen was a mess. Nevertheless, everything went smoothly for a while.

Approximately 20 minutes into our baking experience, I noticed that one little fellow was missing from the kitchen. After a quick check I discovered that he had escaped to the den to watch television. After another five minutes had passed, one of the girls also disappeared. She, too, had gone to watch television. The crowd was thinning out. It went on like that, with one kid leaving every five minutes, until I suddenly found myself alone in the kitchen. Everything was covered with flour, including me, who by then bore a close resemblance to the Pillsbury Doughboy.

While it was an experience I will never forget, it is one that I had not thought of in years. But baking tzibbeleh pletzlach today with an adult grandchild was a far cry from the day I was deserted by little ones who had zero interest in learning to make hamantaschen. Clearly, they were at my house for a television experience. The only one interested in a baking experience was their mother. That’s the way it was! 

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