Sometimes a recipe is more than just a recipe. It comes with a family story and memories. It can transport you to another time and place. To your grandmother’s kitchen. To another country. To a more innocent era, before you were forced to leave your home.
Taste, like scent and music, bypasses your rational mind and goes straight to your heart.
That’s true of this recipe that comes from Eva Grinston, who arrived in Sydney as a refugee on Australia Day, 1950. Born in Slovakia, 93-year-old Eva is a devoted grandmother, a great cook and a survivor of the WWII Nazi genocide of the Jews.
Her recipes feature in a 2019 book, Just Add Love: Holocaust Survivors Share Their Stories and Recipes. Journalist Irris Makler gathered the life stories and the recipes of more than 20 grandmothers – and two grandfathers – from across Russia, Europe and North Africa. “These are Jewish women with a universal message – that you can rebuild your life even when you have lost everything,” says Makler.
This is Eva’s story. As a teenager, the Nazis held Eva Grinston as a prisoner in the death camp of Auschwitz. Her mother, sister and aunt were murdered there. When Eva returned home after the war, she found it had been requisitioned by Russian soldiers. It seemed that little remained of her past – until she discovered her grandmother’s cookbook in the basement. It’s a link to her past and also to her future, as Eva bakes recipes from it for her grandchildren in Australia. In fact, this wonderful rich chocolate cake is on the table for all her grandchildren’s birthdays and has become one of their favourites.
The sour cherries balance the chocolate, cutting the cake’s rich sweetness. In Czechoslovakia, they picked the sour cherries off the tree. Here Eva buys them, imported from Europe. Sometimes, when she can’t find sour cherries, she uses tinned pineapple instead! A very local innovation…
Eva says her positive memories emerge in the kitchen, when she cooks from her grandmother’s cookbook.
700g jar pitted sour cherries, drained (2 cups fruit)
200g dark chocolate, 60% or higher
200g butter, at room temperature
7 eggs, at room temperature
200g/2 cups ground walnuts (or almonds)
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar (optional)
1 egg yolk, with a little water
3 tablespoons instant coffee
Pre-heat oven to 180°C/160°C fan-forced, and butter and flour a large rectangular 35cm x 25cm baking tin.
Drain the juice from the cherries. You need only the fruit for this recipe.
Melt chocolate in microwave or in a double boiler (a pot set over a second pot containing gently boiling water, which allows the steam to melt the chocolate).
Cream butter, egg yolks and sugar till light, about 5-7 minutes. Add melted chocolate, now slightly cooled. Fold in nuts by hand.
Beat egg whites. Add ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar, if desired. When stiff, fold them gently into the chocolate mixture.
Spoon cake mix into tin and smooth down. Place cherries evenly over the top.
Bake for 30 minutes, less if your oven is fan forced; test after 20 minutes by inserting a toothpick. It’s ready when it comes out dry with small crumbs clinging to it. This cake is best a little underdone.
Serve as is, cut into squares, or, for a special occasion, decorated with pomegranate seeds and chocolate ganache.
Published in ed#588