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Gefilte Fish

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Family Story

Traditionally, a live carp or pike or whitefish, kept in the bathtub until needed. The fish would be ground together with binding ingredients and formed into ovals, poached in the broth until cooked. Recipes were rarely used, gefilte fish was made by “feel." When I was planning to marry in 1961, I was going to be the perfect ‘60s wife. I would cook, and in all ways create the idyllic Dick and Jane household. To this end, I asked my maternal grandmother to teach me to make gefilte fish, a dish which she made well. My grandmother invited me to her house for the day to watch her make gefilte fish, as she didn’t use a recipe, but rather made it from memory. I would write down what I saw so that I would have a recipe to use in the future. I arrived to find her ready and we began. I, with a tiny red notebook that proved to be hopelessly inadequate, and she in her apron. She began by explaining how to prepare the fish and apologizing for skipping the step of preparing the fish, and starting, instead, with the ground fish from the store. I was a bit startled when she opened the package of ground fish to find it contained both the fish and the fish heads. She chopped the vegetables for the broth and began mixing the fish and eggs and matzo meal and shaping it into large balls, which she then poached in the broth she had boiling with the vegetables and fish heads. By the end of the day I was still writing and now watching my grandmother taking the fish balls from the broth and putting them onto a dish to cool while she strained the both over the balls. As she prepared the fish for the refrigerator, she told me that we’d now come to the most important part of the making of great gefilte fish and that I must get this into my notebook very carefully. I began a new page with an asterisk at the top and my grandmother dictated the following: “No one in their right mind would ever be bothered doing this now when you can get perfectly good gefilte fish at the grocery store."


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