Cooking and Baking

Connecting To Kosher Traditions Through Food And Memory

Melinda Strauss June 26, 2024

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Food has a special way of connecting us to our past, especially in a Jewish home where keeping kosher is part of everyday life. For me, these traditions are more than just routines—they are the sounds, smells, and tastes of my childhood, filled with memories of my family. This is why I’m writing a cookbook that incorporates the traditions of Jewish food. It’s my way of sharing not just with my family, but with others too, so you can taste the traditional foods of my childhood. And I know many will also learn more about Judaism through my stories and our Jewish history.

I grew up right across the street from my Saba Joe and Savtah Adina (my father’s parents), and their kitchen was like a second home to me. I remember sitting on the counter, my legs swinging as I watched my Savtah cook. The sizzle of onions cooking in oil, cracking the peppermint candies for the homemade ice cream, the sweet smell of zucchini bread baking, and the sound of the tin canister opening while we snuck the meringues and mandelbrot when no one was watching—these are memories that take me back to those special times.

My Savtah’s kitchen was always bustling with activity, especially during holidays when my 14 cousins would come to visit. We would make up songs and dances while my Savtah, my mom, and my aunts prepared all the food. 

My Grandma Dorothy (my mom’s mom), 99 years old kein ayin hara, was born in the Bronx and always made traditional Hungarian dishes from her own childhood. When we were growing up, my Grandma and Zeidi lived in Beverly Hills, and part of my memories with them isn’t just the recipes Grandma made but also the pizza from Nagila always waiting for us when we landed from Seattle and the sweet cereals lined up in the pantry for me and my siblings. 

Passing down these traditions is really important to me. It’s not just about teaching my kids how to cook but also sharing the stories and values behind the recipes. When we make latkes for Chanukah or matzo ball soup for Shabbos, we’re not just cooking—we’re keeping our culture alive. Each recipe is a piece of our family’s story, reminding us of our past and helping us stay connected to our roots. It’s not just about food; it’s about remembering who we are and where we come from. 

In today’s world, it can be hard to keep up with these traditions, but it’s more important than ever. Involving my kids in the kitchen, the Shabbos prep, and choosing the holiday menus keeps these practices alive. Even a small act like setting the table for Friday night dinner helps them feel proud and connected. 

Food is a universal language, but for those of us who grew up in kosher homes, it’s filled with deeper meaning and emotion. Each meal tells a story, each recipe connects us to our past and bridges us to our future. As I stand in my kitchen with my kids, sharing these traditions, I know we’re creating memories that will last a lifetime. The stories of my Saba and Savtah and my Grandma and Zeidi’s history is embedded in each dish, and I hope my children will pass them on to their own families someday.

Writing this cookbook is not just about preserving recipes; it’s about preserving a way of life. It’s about ensuring that the next generation understands the importance of our traditions and feels connected to their heritage. By sharing these recipes and stories, I hope to inspire others to explore the traditions of Jewish cuisine and to create their own family memories around the table.

Meringue Cookies

Yield: 24-30 meringues


4 egg whites 

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt


1. Preheat the oven to 215 degrees Fahrenheit and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. With a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat egg whites for one minute at medium speed, until foamy.

3. With the mixer still on low speed, slowly sprinkle in the sugar, vanilla, and salt until it is all combined with the egg whites. Then, raise the speed to medium-high and whisk until stiff peaks form on the meringue, around six to eight minutes. 

4. Transfer the meringue to a large piping bag (you can also use a large Ziploc bag for this) and snip off the tip of the bag. Pipe the meringues onto the parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving one inch between each meringue. You can also dollop the meringues onto the baking sheets with a spoon for a more rustic look.  

5. Bake the meringues for one and a half hours. Turn off the oven, leave the door of the oven ajar, and let the meringues sit for one hour in the oven or overnight. (Don’t forget about the meringues if you leave them overnight).

6. The meringues can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to one week.