When you come from a background of varying food traditions, which ones will you choose?
Carol Herbert’s family came from diverse origins. Her father, David Chertkow, born in Ukraine, came to Winnipeg as a boy in 1912. His older siblings got jobs and made sure the younger ones, like her father, could go to school. A “classic Immigrant story”.
Her mother’s side came from a very different tradition. Her grandmother, Perla Franco, was from the Island of Rhodes, and grandfather, Leon Benezra, from Turkey. Perla and Leon moved to Seattle when they were teenagers in the early 1900’s and were among the originators of the Pike Place market.
Carol’s mother, Rachelle Benezra, was a young concert pianist when she met her father, David, an articling student from Drumheller, Alberta, visiting Seattle with friends. Though she was seeing someone else at the time, he managed to woo her with his irresistible Canadian charm.
For a sephardic girl to marry an ashkenazi boy was taboo in those days. “It was sort of like intermarriage,” Carol explains. Her mother’s family, she says, was concerned that they would lose their heritage. “They knew that she would go and she would follow her husband’s tradition.” For example, in keeping with Sephardic tradition, her mother had grown up eating rice on Passover. Once they were married, it was decided that her husband’s family tradition would be followed instead.
The passing down of recipes is a value not only strong in Judaism, but in many other cultures. “Our first nations people worry about that” Carol remarks. Like the importance of keeping a language alive, the same value translates to the language of food.
Carol spent time in Haida Gwaii on several occasions working on a 5-year collaborative research project. A very important early stage of the project was hosting a feast for the community. Carol and her team went out and caught the halibut and salmon, brought it back, cooked it, and served it to the community. The food, the cooking, and the feast were invaluable for joining a community that was suspicious of outsiders, having been exploited in the past. Food, which is so central to their culture, has spiritual and medicinal components. One of Carol’s favourite phrases she learned during her time in Haida Gwaii is “When the tide is out, the table is set”. At low tide, you can gather shellfish from the shore, only taking as much as you needed because you can always go back for more.
Carol relates a memory of her time in Haida Gwaii, learning to strip the leaves of labrador tea, a skill passed down to her from someone in the community, “kind of like when your mother teaches you how to make gefilte fish”.
This transmission of knowledge from generation to generation is an important value in Carol’s life. She makes it one of her tasks as a grandparent to cook with her grandchildren with the hopes that they, too, will cook with their family. They make a varying range of recipes from her father’s ashkenazi side as well as from her mother’s sephardic roots, allowing for her diverse heritage to be shared through a variety of delicious recipes.
What are some of your favourite food phrases? Do remember your parents or friends having a saying about food?
Stay tuned for more of Carol’s story in our upcoming podcast series, The Kitchen Stories.
Alisa Lazear and April Thompson are JMABC Museum Assistants for summer 2016. Through the course of the summer, they will be researching the ways that food plays an integral role in continuing family traditions within our community. If you would like to contribute to this project, or be interviewed for it, please contact the JMABC office at 604.257.5199. Alisa and April’s positions have been made possible through the generous support of two programs offered by the Canadian Government: Canada Summer Jobs and Young Canada Works.