A Passover Story and an Unusual Recipe
ENGLISH CORNER, CON LINDA JIMÉNEZ – This week’s trivia question: What does the Yiddish word “greevn” mean?
This week we are celebrating Passover, so I thought I’d give you a present. The story I’m going to read is by Sam Liptzin. He’s not one of the most well-known Yiddish writers, so I thought I’d tell you a little about him first.
Liptzin was born in a small village called Lipsk, in Poland, in 1894. By the time he was 10 years old, he was already working as a tailor. He arrived in the US at the age of 15 and became involved in the United Garment Workers of America, as a shop worker.He became active in the Jewish workers’ movement and was critical of the Union leadership, which was corrupt at the time. He was ousted from the union and then started to write full time instead of only occasionally, which is what he had done before.
He wrote 21 books in Yiddish, and also a book in English called «In Spite of Tears». He wrote about the shop and strikes and also humorous anecdotes, aphorisms, poetry, jokes, and was always right on the mark, as it were, with his satire and sometimes subtle attacks on the worker-boss situation. He was considered a real workers’ writer and was much beloved by the reading public.
The story I’m going to read for you is from Liptzin’s book, “Mit a Freylikh Ponem”, “With a Happy Face”, and is called “Greevn un Shmaltz”. I chose it because it’s a good example of two themes that we often see in Yiddish literature: the abject poverty that most Eastern European Jews suffered, and the intelligent rabbi, who understood this and was able to resolve problems with sensitivity and wisdom.
I should explain that the title means “Cracklings and Rendered Animal Fat”, which sounds really disgusting if you’ve never tried it, but it’s a real delicacy in Ashkenazi cooking, especially in Eastern Europe at a time when poor Jews had very little to eat. And it’s a comfort food for the rest of us.
Anyway, if you feel daring and would like to try some, here’s how to make it, though in all good conscience I must warn you that it will set alarm bells off on the cholesterol meter. Take raw chicken fat and cut it into small pieces and melt it in a frying pan over a low fire. The little pieces that become brown and crispy are the greevenes and the fat is the schmaltz. Strain off the greevenes, which you can salt and eat as is–some people call it “Jewish popcorn”–or put it back into the schmaltz later. Then you can sauté a little finely chopped onion in the schmaltz. Add salt to it and put it in a bowl in the fridge, with or without the greevenes. After it solidifies, you can spread it on rye bread or matza, and it’s really delicious…
I hope you enjoy our story, Sam Liptzin’s Greevn un Shmaltz, and I’d like to thank my mother, Rose Jimenez, for translating it so that I can share it with you.