The ingredient for the perfect recipe

March 12, 2019 by Elana Bowman
Read on for article
Author and award-winning foreign correspondent Irris Makler will pre-launch her book Just Add Love later this month in Sydney.

Irris Makler and Rich Hampel   Photo: supplied

Irris Makler has been asked if it is a cookbook, or a history book, or a photo book? She answered: “It’s actually all three, blended into a delicious whole.”
The stories and recipes of more than 20 Holocaust survivors now grandmothers and grandfathers feature in Just Add Love.
The book begins with Irris watching a friend of her mother’s for many years cooking up feasts from a battered old recipe book.
It turned out to be a book with a story.
Eva Grinston lives in Sydney now but was born in Bratislava, Slovakia. She was a child when WWII began, and a teenager when it ended having been incarcerated for months in Auschwitz where her mother, aunt, and her younger sister Vera were murdered.
Eva returned to her family home after the war. She was 16, alone, and bereft. She was given fifteen minutes in her old home to find that little remained of her past when she discovered a box in the cellar. In it was a kaleidoscope she had played with as a child, and the last pictures her sister Vera had drawn before the Nazis forced them into the ghetto.
Eva also found her grandmother’s recipe book and has been cooking and baking with it ever since. It made Irris realise that there was a book to be written. Just Add Love is dedicated to her grandmother Lea.
In 2015 Irris produced and directed Taste of Memory, a TV and a radio documentary for ABC Australia. During the documentary, Rita Ross, Lena Goldstein and her mother, handed down traditional European Jewish recipes and their stories of resilience and loss, of surviving the Holocaust in Nazi Europe, and of arriving in Australia to begin a new life as refugees. They all chose to bake cakes. Sweet recipes to accompany deeply sad stories.
Just Add Love took a long time to write. Irris works in the Middle East as a foreign correspondent, so came back to Australia in the summers, to do the stories piece by piece, recording the recipes. She found most of the contributing Holocaust survivors who share their stories and recipes through friends.
Irris used five women to check and test the recipes in the book. “Women are so adept. You have to know the quantities and the recipes in-depth; so you can know how to pass them on,” said Irris Makler.
When the grandmothers and two grandfathers cooked, baked using the recipes, they used their instincts. Irris added: “But using your instincts is not an instruction for the modern cookbook. There is something very intimate about the kitchen. It’s a time for listening and for talking. Women are in the kitchen with intricate recipes, folding, and learning. It is very companionable.”
One of the women in the book taught Irris to cook with yeast.  Irris commented: “Yeast recipes are fantastic. It’s a living thing and sometimes doesn’t rise.” Irris loved the chocolate babkas and cheese pockets Baba Schwartz taught her. “She took my hand and taught me to produce wonderful, fail-safe super delicious cakes.”
She told J-Wire: “Whenever I bake with yeast I think of her. Her voice is ringing in my ears. This book has been incredibly rewarding for me. Some of the grandmothers I knew. And others I met on this project.”
Having worked in and travelled in Russia, Irris wanted to include Central Asia and recipes too. She wanted a spread of stories and cuisine. “I wanted a Russian story.”
Ilya Pinhasov is one of the book’s grandfathers had an incredible pasta technique; using a wooden rolling pin and curtain rod to make the dushpera (tortellini).
Ruth Hampel shared her recipes with Irris, telling Irris her how she ended in Central Asia. Her grandfather survived the war. Amanda Hampel worked on the graphic design for the team and was also one of the cooks. Ruth’s gluten-free recipes have been passed down to her grandchildren.
After talking to the grandmothers, Irris learnt that a Jewish grandmother’s go-to ingredient is minced chicken, which almost every Food is Love grandmother used in many recipes for popular with grandmothers. Rissoles featured in many recipes as an easy weekday meal in Eastern Europe, Libya and in Egypt. And Irris highly recommends soup with chicken, turmeric, and garlic.
The Food is Love project involved photographer David Mane.
Irris Makler said Mane’s photographs “show their humour, their love, and their triumph. He showed their resilience.”
A woman contacted her and thanked her because she had found a recipe she was familiar with and one that her family had not written down.
This project and book have been so restorative for Irris Makler as her foreign correspondent work is a different discipline.  She said: “This takes more time, and it is very rewarding.”
Irris’s grandmother was an outstanding baker, so Irris knew the taste of the honey cake recipe she was searching for. She believes that the traditional honey cake recipe from Melbourne Holocaust survivor Saba Feniger is the closest to her grandmother Lea’s. “It’s moist, dark and spicy. Saba said the recipe was reliable, and always seemed to work, no matter what you did. She added spices, but you can also add rum, or nuts or sultanas. Or not. The basic cake is always rich and dense and improves with age.”
“Finding that ‘perfect’ taste, is a way of staying close to Grandmother Lea, recreating the warmth of her love.”
Join Irris Makler at NCJWA NSW on Sunday 31 March 2019 at 2.30pm at the Fanny Reading Council House, 111 Queen Street, Woollahra
To book phone 02 9363 0257 or email
Irris Makler is an Australian author and broadcast journalist based in Jerusalem, where she has been a foreign correspondent for 10 years.
To order this book go to:
She gave a TEDx talk about her upcoming book:

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