I like to plan out each holiday and Sabbath meal well in advance. Of course, nothing runs that smoothly. Many of the dishes I prepared this Sukkot at my parents’ home in Israel were standards, such as brisket, stuffed cabbage, scalloped potatoes, and yellow rice, which have staying power, but I can also make extra portions to freeze for meals further down the line on Sukkot and for when holiday guests stop by. Other dishes, however, were a matter of what produce was available in the house and what struck my fancy.
My mother had some interesting vegetables in her refrigerator, including some young Russian red kale, and I decided to fix them as a stir-fry. In the mixture I also sliced some carrots, bell peppers, a kohlrabi, a few green squash, onions, and scallions. I had a sweet-and-sour sauce with a touch of chilies, so I stirred in a little. The result was quite refreshing and tasty. And it held up well on the platta until Friday night dinner.
When my mother’s chicken soup ended up locked in a neighbor’s freezer and they forgot to share the key before leaving for the weekend, I found four leeks and 2 small fennel bulbs, which I simmered with a diced potato for extra texture, then threw in a splash of olive oil and fresh lemon juice. I served it hot with soft matza balls intended for the chicken soup. The result was delicious, if I do say so myself, sort of like a vegetarian chicken soup.
To be sure, I crumbled up tofu into my noodle kugel (one batch made three kugels covering three meals). But I frequently substitute tofu for cheese in a noodle kugel, then throw in some chopped apples and apricots. So this was no spur of the moment impulse.
Some of the world’s best foods were created by accident. Chocolate chip cookies are now big business in the United States, but its origins is rather humble, the result of a fortuitous accident. Ruth Graves Wakefield (1903-1977) spent several years as a dietitian after graduating the Framingham State Normal School in the Department of Household Arts. Then in 1930, Ruth and her husband Kenneth purchased a toll house (built in 1709) in Whitman, Massachusetts, halfway between Boston and New Bedford. The couple opened a lodge, naming it the Toll House Inn. Soon thereafter (I don’t think it’s too early to start considering a centennial memorial for this major culinary birth), Ruth was whipping up a batch of “Butter Drop Do” cookies.
Amelia Simmons in American Cookery (Hartford: 1796), the first cookbook written by an American, included the original colonial recipe for making this dish. “Butter drop do. Rub one quarter of a pound butter, one pound sugar, sprinkled with mace, into one pound and a quarter flour, add four eggs, one glass rose water, bake as No. 1 [i.e. ‘shape it to your fancy, bake 15 minutes’].”
At the last minute, after already preparing the dough, Wakefield decided to make the cookies chocolate. However, she did not have any baking chocolate on hand. In desperation, she added chopped pieces of semisweet chocolate expecting that they would melt and mix with the dough. Much to her amazement and the delight of subsequent generations, the chocolate pieces remained intact. The result was what she initially called “chocolate crispies” and what is now the most popular of all cookies. Wakefield did not even like her discovery that much, but her employees did and continued to make them. Of such lucky mishaps are great ideas often born — as was a new form of chocolate, scored bars meant to be broken for this increasingly popular cookie.
After Nestle’s began marketing her chocolate chip recipe to the public, Wakefield published her original recipe in a book Toll House Tried and True Recipes (New York: M, Barrows & Company, 1936).
Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies
Cream 1 cup butter, add ¾ cup brown sugar, ¾ cup granulated sugar and 2 eggs beaten whole. Dissolve 1 tsp. soda in 1 tsp. hot water, and mix alternately with 2¼ cups flour sifted with 1 tsp. salt. Lastly add 1 cup chopped nuts and 2 bars (7-oz.) Nestles yellow label chocolate, semi-sweet, which has been cut in pieces the size of a pea. Flavor with 1 tsp vanilla and drip half teaspoons on a greased cookie sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes in 375 degrees F. Oven. Makes 100 cookies.”
Note that the recipe is not yet called “chocolate chip” and it calls for cutting up chocolate bars, as the book was printed before the advent of chocolate chips. In 1939 Nestle purchased the Toll House name and began producing small chocolate morsels that we now call chips as well as creating its standard name. In 1985 a fire laid waste to the Toll House Inn, but its most famous product lives on.
To be sure, none of my serendipitous holiday dishes in any way approach a chocolate chip cookie in impact or durability. Still, I generally take a little more satisfaction with my accidental holiday dishes than the standard fare, as they are a matter of artistic license and most will never be seen again. Oh, and this year I did make a double batch of chocolate chip mandelbrot, for which I can thank Ruth Wakefield.