Last week Norm lost his Dad, I lost my father-in-law, and my children lost their last surviving grandparent. We were in Toronto for the funeral but after the first day of Shiva, we returned to Los Angeles for Norm to complete the week here. We arrived to our home to find that in our absence the mirrors had been covered, the chairs for services had been set up, the furniture had been moved out of the way, the paper goods for meals had been purchased, and there on the patio table, a pot of split pea soup was waiting for us. The meals were all planned, and just seven hours after our arrival, it began.
Shiva was in motion and while the davening was taking place in the living room and Norm was being comforted by his friends, there was a different kind of comforting in the kitchen. Bamitbach, women were milling around, telling each other what and how to set things up, more cookies, fewer bagels, fresh coffee. The comfort that comes from being together, working as a unit, is also the comfort that comes from doing what we do best, preparing food for people we care about.
There was a lull later in the day and my daughter sent me an article from the New York Times about the renewed popularity of schmaltz. My mother used to make schmaltz and although I don’t remember what she used it for, I do remember the delicious by-product, gribenes, the delicious salty cracklings of fried chicken skin. After I read the article out loud, we talked about trying to make schmaltz and Norm said we should make it right then. I called my friend and asked her to buy a chicken and bring it over. Within minutes, Shira, Denise, Anna and myself, not unlike hens in a henhouse, were skinning a chicken, cutting off every piece of precious fat, chopping onions and making schmaltz. We ate the gribenes right away but the 2 tablespoons of schmaltz are sitting in the fridge until inspiration hits us.
This morning at 6:00 a.m. Norm and I were in the living room. I asked how he was doing and he said, “Shiva, that’s what it’s about, having Shira here and preparing schmaltz and gribenes during her Zaidie’s Shiva is something that she will never forget.” I am sure that Norm’s dad, Pinnie Saiger, would have felt the same way.
Schmaltz and Gribenes
1 chicken, skinned and all fat removed. (Or collect fat each time you make chicken, freeze, and make schmaltz once you have a larger amount)
1/2 onion, chopped
dash of salt
Dice pieces of fat and skin and place in frying pan over low heat. Cook till fat is rendered (melted) and skin begins to turn golden brown. Add diced onion and continue to cook until gribenes are crispy and dark brown. Strain through sieve and store schmaltz in fridge till ready to use. Drain gribenes on paper towel and allow to stand for several minutes to become even more crisp. Sprinkle with salt and eat! Note: The article said that in Eastern Europe latkes were fried in schmaltz, so you might want to think about that for Chanukah!