My mother, Dorothy Marcus Tavris, was brilliant, organized, funny, feisty, and completely uninterested in cooking. She had an independent streak that led her to become a lawyer at the age of 21, and, in the late 1940s, to go into the insurance business with my father. She had a couple of dinner-party specialties that I loved—a rice-vermicelli mix with heaps of butter and slivered almonds—but otherwise I have almost no memories of her in the kitchen.
Once I asked my mother why she never learned to sew and cook, except for a few special dishes. Why didn’t she follow in her mother’s and older sisters’ footsteps? “I saw that my mother worked so hard,” she said. “She made clothes for all five children. That pinafore you loved when you were five? She copied the design from a magazine. She was always cooking, baking, cleaning, sewing, washing, helping your grandfather at the newsstand or deli or whatever other job he was doing that year. I noticed that he would come home and get to rest, but not her. Frankly, a career seemed a lot easier.”
When I was 11, my father died suddenly, and my grandma Ida and her bachelor son Reuben, my beloved Uncle Ruby, moved in with my mother and me. Ruby, a violist, was ahead of his time by many decades: a health nut who believed in jogging, walking, flossing, and putting wheat germ on everything from eggs to hamburgers. Ida was a world-class, central-casting grandmother who saved the culinary day, making classic Jewish dishes that everyone in the family craved. Of course, she never looked at a recipe, and when I was about 7, I panicked that she might die and we would never know how to make her cinnamon-and-raisin crescent rolls that we called kicheleh, her paper-thin strudel, and her oatmeal cookies. So I followed her around the kitchen writing down what she was doing. I got this far:
two cups Quacker [sic] oats
1 glass oil
a bissle salt
I am happy to report that Aunt Sarah did write down the recipe, and to this day when I make those cookies, their delicious taste is further sweetened by my delicious memories.
Carol Tavris is a social psychologist, lecturer, and writer, whose latest book, with Elliot Aronson, is Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) (Mariner, 2015); https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carol_Tavris.
Grandma Marcus’s Oatmeal Cookies
2 c. sifted flour
2 c. oatmeal (quick oats)
1/2 t. baking powder
1 c. raisins
1 c. sugar
1/2 t. salt
1 cup oil
1 t. cinnamon (optional)
1/2 c. nuts (walnuts or pecans)
4 T. strained orange and/or lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Sift flour, baking powder, and salt.
Mix in oatmeal and sugar.
Add raisins and oil.
Beat eggs and add to mixture.
Add nuts and orange/lemon juice; mix well
Oil a sheet pan generously and make small cookie balls.
Bake 15 - 20 minutes on bottom rack.
Then place on top rack for another 15 minutes or until brown.
Makes approximately 3 dozen large cookies or twice that many small cookies.