Sensory time travel (and a recipe for challah)

It’s funny how a taste, a scent, a snatch of a song chorus can carry you back in time to a specific point in your life, often childhood. Not always a good place of course, however, I like to be positive so I’m going for happy memories here.

I saw Kindertransport at Nottingham Playhouse recently, a production both uplifting and heartbreaking with Diane Samuels’ depiction of German Jewish children sent off alone into a perilous world before the outbreak of World War II as their best chance of survival. The play considers how these momentous events affected the child, Eva, her mother who stayed in Germany, and Eva’s new ‘mother’ in England during and after the war. I found this such a difficult dilemma to contemplate, but those at the time had to take action. Love, identity and faith are also strong themes, leading on to recent discoveries in my own family.

My brother-in-law is researching our genealogy and recently updated us on his findings relating to my maternal grandmother, Nana (Eileen), and her family, the Bates.

Eileen Bates married Max Lewin, my grandfather, and converted to his Jewish faith (love and faith trumping the politics of the time). Max was born in London, his parents having fled Russia in the late 1800s. My memories of holidays in their Sussex home in the 1970s include trips to the kosher shop for exotic items such as curd cheese, borscht and challah, the sweet, brioche-like bread traditionally eaten on the Sabbath.

Nana (seated, centre) and her sisters

Nana’s brothers and sisters (a total of eight children) had a leaning towards show business, enjoying careers as dancers and music hall entertainers, a bare-back elephant rider in a circus, and a Hollywood B movie actress. More investigation is needed here, and sadly, these exciting careers never seemed to be something we discussed at family get-togethers. I have so many questions now.

However, for now, back to food. I’ve been making different types of bread recently, and in honour of my Jewish heritage, have had a go at challah. I tried this recipe by Joan Callaway; my second attempt was better (image from the first loaf). I made half the quantity stated (as this makes two large plaited loaves which, for a rich bread is hard going for just us). At the second making, I made the half quantity into two smaller plaits, one of which is now in the freezer. I found I needed a lot more flour as this is a sticky dough and a food mixer would have been welcome (as mentioned in a previous post, get this woman a Kitchen Aid!).  It also seemed to need a longer prove, about two hours.

Beaten egg painted on the loaf before baking gives a lovely, shiny conker-like shine. And when I tasted it, it’s heavy sweetness, I was back in the seemingly endless hot Sussex summers of the ’70s with my Nana and Grandpa. Lovely.


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