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Fallout: Chapter 6

An inexperienced cook and an even more inexperienced teenage assistant — surely they could use some help


February 1964

There. Morning hubbub done. Annie had dropped Ruchele off at kindergarten and placed the twins on their school bus with kisses and treats for recess. Abe had left to his medical practice, as always, with a tuna sandwich and a cheerful goodbye. Mutty, her diligent Mutty, had gone to early minyan, grabbed a quick breakfast, and was off on his subway ride to Columbia University before most of the household was even stirring.

And Artie? He was still asleep now, having spent far too much time strumming that guitar into the early hours of the morning.

With her anxiety about Artie’s future darkening her mood, Annie wanted — needed — to get out, to see people, hear the noise of laughter and conversation. She could do some dress shopping, or have coffee with a friend, or....

The hotel! With the chasunah tomorrow, Perele would need help in the kitchen. And it would be fun, cooking there again.

After her first shocked reaction, Annie had allowed herself to delight in Mrs. Horn’s obvious happiness. Mrs. Horn had cooked generously for so many years — she’d earned the right to a joyous and restful retirement.

And the hotel kitchen? Annie didn’t know Perele well, but she seemed pleasant and efficient. She and her two-year-old son had turned up at the hotel in early 1957, part of the flood of Jewish refugees who’d escaped Communist rule during the short-lived Hungarian Revolution. Papa had told Annie that Perele had a well-to-do uncle who supported her financially, so she did not have to earn a living. Perele lived quietly, raising her child and doing whatever she could to help the elderly boarders.

An inexperienced cook and an even more inexperienced teenage assistant — surely they could use some help.


nnie opened the swinging doors that led to the kitchen and was enveloped by a raucous wave of noise. This was no clanking of pots and pans or Mrs. Horn quietly humming a Yiddish tune, the normal sounds of the hotel kitchen. No, here was a man speaking — or rather, shouting — in a rapid, almost hysterical and tinny voice, followed by voices singing to a background of drums and an electric guitar. The song sounded raw, rough, with an edge of rebellion and anger.

She spotted the small transistor radio on the milchig counter and rapidly twisted the knob.

Marjorie, her bright-red hair sticking out of a brighter pink scarf, gave a huge smile. “Hi, Mrs. L!” she shouted. “Music a little too loud for you?”

Annie surveyed the scene: Perele, her sheitel completely covered by a dark scarf, was standing over the stovetop, mixing something in a huge frying pan, while Marjorie pulled puff pastry over a large tray.

“I hope it’s okay,” Perele Schwartz said, almost apologetically. “Marjorie has been up since six—“

“Five thirty, but who’s counting?” Marjorie giggled.

“Okay, five thirty, making a fancy dessert for the chasunah.”

“Only the best for Mrs. Horn. She’s so nice to me, and I wanted to do something really special,” Marjorie interjected, pulling on the pastry. “It’s called Tarte Tatin. I’m just finishing up this tray, and we’ll put it in the oven. It’s hours of work, but really worth it.”

“Tarte Tatin? What is that?” Annie asked.

“I learned it in my cooking classes. It’s French. I make this fabulous puff pastry — the secret is using ice cubes in the water — and I caramelize the apples in sugar and butter — and—”

“Butter?” Annie interrupted the endless flow of words sharply. “Butter?!”

“No, no, stay cool,” Marjorie giggled. “Just force of habit. Madame, my cooking teacher, will kill me, but of course I’ve used margarine, just like Mrs. Schwartz told me to. See how kosher I’m getting?”

Annie gave a little smile. “I was wondering if you need some help here. I worked with Mrs. Horn in this very kitchen for years before I was married.”

“I don’t think so,” Marjorie answered, before Perele could say anything. “Me and Mrs. S., we’ve got it all under control. And if you don’t mind, I’ll just switch the radio back on. I love to work with music, don’t you?”

Under control? Annie looked around the kitchen. The place was a mess, the counters covered with tufts of flour and sugar, apple cores lying on the floor. What would Mrs. Horn say, if she could see what these two were doing to her usually immaculate kitchen?

Well, they said they don’t need me to cook. But they sure need me to clean.

She grabbed an apron and a rag and got to work on the counters, trying to ignore the blaring radio. Finally, she turned to the pile of trash on the floor. Apple cores and peels, packages of flour, and — what was this? — a wrapper from the margarine that had gone into the dessert.

Gold Band margarine.

Kosher margarine.

Kosher DAIRY margarine.

“Stop!” Annie shrieked, watching as the redhead opened the oven door. “Marjorie, what have you done?”


till standing in front of the open oven, Marjorie stared. “What in the world is the matter?”

“This is the matter,” Annie answered, enunciating each word carefully, and waving the wrapper in her hand. “The margarine you used was milchig. Dairy!” Annie was clearly trying to keep her fury under control.

“But it’s margarine,” Marjorie said, clearly not understanding what was going on.

“Yes, but it’s dairy margarine,” Annie said, finally calm enough to explain. “It’s a good thing I caught this before it went into the oven. If this had gone in, we would not have been able to bake anything for the chasunah.”

Seeing Marjorie’s puzzled face, Annie gave up. She couldn’t teach the laws of kashrus to this ignoramus of a girl. Time for solutions. “Obviously, we can’t use this for the wedding. We’ll have to ask Papa what to do, if we can just bake it in the milk oven, or if we have to throw it all out.”

Marjorie came to life. “Throw it out? In the garbage? After all my hours of work?!” She turned to Perele. “But you said! You said I should use margarine!” she wailed.

Perele looked as thunderstruck as the teenager. “Are you sure?” she asked Annie. “I never heard of such a thing? Dairy margarine?”

“Yes. Gold Band makes a milchig margarine. Mrs. Horn didn’t allow it into the kitchen. She was afraid of such a mistake.” She turned to Marjorie. “I’m going to speak to my father, ask him what to do.”

Annie stalked out of the kitchen, just as Marjorie burst into tears.


eruchum brought a modicum of sanity to the bedlam in the kitchen.

Annie, walking in behind him, watched as he approached Marjorie, still sobbing on Perele’s shoulder. He spoke gently, like a father calming down a hysterical child.

“Please, Miss Burton, it’s all right. There’s no harm done.”

The crying stopped; now, the red-rimmed eyes flashed fury. “No harm done? NO HARM DONE? I’ve been working on this for hours. Hours! And now she—” Marjorie looked fiercely at Annie—”… she wants to throw it all into the garbage?!”

Yeruchum spoke, still in that soft, quiet voice. “None of us wants to throw out your work, Miss Burton. What we want is to do what is right.” He turned to Perele, who’d been standing quietly, her arm on Marjorie’s shoulder. “Mrs. Schwartz, when you made this dessert, did you use fleishig pans and dishes?”

Perele’s voice was as quiet as Yeruchum’s. “No, Mr. Freed. Everything was pareve.”

Annie spoke; she just couldn’t help it. “Except,” she interjected, “the margarine.”

A sigh from Perele. “Of course, except the margarine.” She pulled Marjorie a little closer. “I take full blame for this, Mr. Freed. It wasn’t Marjorie’s fault. She, and I, had no idea—”

Yeruchum broke in. “No one is to blame. It was a natural mistake.” He turned to Marjorie, who was still glaring at Annie. “Miss Burton, I have to speak to my rabbi about this. I believe, since no meat utensils or pots were used to prepare the foods, we can keep this dish — what was it called?”

Marjorie sniffled. “Tarte Tatin. It’s French, and it’s so… so good.” There was the threat of more tears, and Yeruchum hastily continued. “I’m sure it’s delicious. Since it was not yet baked in our meat oven, it’s possible — I will have to check with the rabbi — that we can serve it after our prayers on this coming Shabbos, before lunch. French cooking will be a wonderful treat for everyone. I, for one, cannot wait to taste it.”


“Of course, French cuisine is famous throughout the world. Miss Burton, I suggest you go up and rest a little. I understand you’ve been working hard since early this morning. When you’re feeling better, please come back to help Mrs. Schwartz. We all appreciate it.”

Annie stared at her father, shocked. Was this Papa speaking? Papa, serious, unmaterialistic Papa, talking about French cooking? Papa, whose stringencies and care in kashrus were legendary, letting this foolish child back into his kitchen?



ut Papa, it doesn’t make any sense.”

“What doesn’t make any sense, Sis?” Moe asked, wandering in.

While Annie was generally thrilled to spend time with her brother, now she gave him a look of deep displeasure. She wanted to speak to Papa about this girl, and she didn’t need Moey getting involved. But there was no choice. Moe plopped himself down comfortably on the couch, next to his father.

Okay, so let him hear what she had to say. “Papa, that girl—”

“Miss Burton?”

“Yes. She doesn’t belong here!”

Moe interrupted. “Hey, Annie, you’re getting pretty hot under the collar. What’s the problem?”

In clipped tones, Annie told him about the morning’s events. Moe was not impressed. “Hey, she made a mistake. We all make mistakes, Annie. Even you.”

When they were young, though Annie adored her older brother, she also often found him incredibly annoying. With the passage of more than 20 years, it appeared that nothing had changed.

“Moe, keep quiet. I’m speaking with Papa.” She turned to her father, who’d been sitting silently, stroking his beard. Another odd thing: Papa, one of the most focused people Annie had ever met, seemed to be almost dreaming.

She forced herself to keep her voice calm, rational. “Look, Papa, I’ve got nothing against this girl. But she’s completely secular. She’s young and foolish and loud. She brings in bongos. She—”

Papa cut her off. “Chanaleh, I want her to stay here.”

“But… but why? Papa — if I hadn’t come in this morning and seen that wrapper, the entire hotel, all those people, would be eating treif! And the pans and the oven — everything, treif.” She took a deep breath. “It’s your hotel, Papa. You can choose your guests. But if you let that girl stay in the kitchen … Papa, I’m so sorry, I won’t feel comfortable eating in your home.”

There. She’d said the words she never dreamed she would say.

“I understand, Chanaleh, and I’m happy you’re so careful with kashrus. You can eat here: I will do everything in my power to keep our kitchen as kosher as it always has been. I will hire someone to check every ingredient, make sure the milchig and fleishig are not mixed together and all the halachos are kept l’chumra. But the girl stays.”

“Even with my learning and writing,” Moe said, “I’ve got plenty of extra time. I’ll gladly be your mashgiach, Papa.”

Yeruchum nodded. “We’ll talk about it. Maybe you can also teach the young lady the elements of kashrus.”

Annie couldn’t believe it. Her father, now her brother: That silly girl had them hypnotized. “But why, Papa? Why?”

Her father looked at her and sighed. “Chanaleh, you deserve an explanation. To understand, we’ll have to go back more than 40 years. To a time when I was young and made a mistake. A fatal mistake.”


To be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 850)

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