At Oma's Table Review - Simple Recipes with a touch of Central Europe

The paper jacket of At Oma’s Table implies three promises: you will experience a grandmother’s (Oma’s) cooking; it will be Jewish cooking; and there are more than 100 recipes in the book. Doris Schechter does give us more than a hundred recipes, many good ones, but otherwise the jacket and title do not correspond with what is inside.

At Oma's Table

Schechter, who was born in Vienna, escaped the Holocaust with her parents by moving to Italy, and then to a refugee shelter in the United States. Later, her grandmother (her Oma) joined them in New York City, having lost her husband, son and a daughter as they attempted to escape through Belgium. Oma became the caretaker of the children and the household in New York – she is described as shopping and cooking every day. Freshness and flavor were her watchwords. In 1982, Schechter opened a bakery that grew into My Most Favorite Food, a successful kosher restaurant in Manhattan.

Leah Goldstein-Oma

Most of the recipes are not from Oma’s table – a disappointment for me, as I continue to try to find equivalents of my own Jewish grandmother’s recipes, which, like Oma’s, were never written down. Recipes in At Oma’s Table are, for the most part, the author’s own, from other family members or from friends, and there are few recipes for the most recognizable-as-Jewish-foods. Vegetable soup, turkey pot pie, veal stew, and mashed potatoes are not associated with “Jewish” cooking in the same way as the classic matzo balls, gefilte fish, cholent and tzimmes. Schechter does refer to her grandmother when such foods appear, but usually changes her grandmother’s recipes without stating why she does so. They are more  “in the style of” Oma.

However, the book has had some solid reviews. I knew I had to taste test.  

Vegetable Frittata

I received my copy of the book just in time for Labor Day, which strong food critics (my mother, my aunt, and two cousins) were to celebrate at my house. Covering several recipe sources, I chose Shechter’s Vegetable Frittata, her daughter’s Pea Salad, her mother’s pound cake, and Oma’s apple bundt cake. The frittata takes a lot of prep time, but can be made ahead. The two cakes and salad are very easy to make. I made the cakes a day ahead, and the frittata and salad the morning of Labor Day.

Pea salad

Everything looked wonderful. The critical taste successes were the Vegetable Frittata and Oma’s cake. All tasters agreed both were delicious. Almost everyone liked the pea salad – one guest found it too rich. The pound cake didn’t have much flavor and was a little too oily in texture, but worked very well as a base for fresh fruit salad. Schechter suggests toasting leftover, stale pound cake. She’s right. The texture changes, and it is excellent with coffee.

Pound Cake

This is not a book for cooks who read cookbooks for pleasure or who want to know how to make traditional Jewish food. But cooks who want simple recipes with a touch of Central European tastes will use and enjoy the recipes they find here.

Apple bundt cake

Note: All the recipes can be prepared according to Jewish dietary law (kashrut).

At Oma’s Table
By Doris Schechter
Penguin   -   $23.95

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