Renee Galanti Feldman, 89, especially enjoys the Chanukah season surrounded by great-grandchildren with sticky, doughy fingers while she passes down traditions and recipes from her childhood.
Feldman recalled, “When I was a child, we didn’t exchange gifts. Each night, we would receive a real silver dollar which was in circulation in the 1930s and 1940s and was very prized…the real meaning of Chanukah gelt! In later years with my kids, when we got together with other families, we each brought menorahs to light together. For Rosh Hashanah, Mama would find a fresh pomegranate and a honeydew melon to ripen until sweet. We would cut and peel the pomegranate and try to count the seeds as blessings for the New Year.”
All part of the wonderful Sephardic lore.
Feldman recalls coming home from school to delicious smells where every table and bed was covered with sheets of huge rounds of phyllo dough, drying out to be rolled and cut into various forms of wrappers for baklava or chopped into shreds for kataifi – her very favorite sweet!
She said, “Sadly no one makes these from scratch anymore. I remember my tias, or aunties, gathering before a special event to bake together. Like before cousin Isaac’s bar mitzvah, everyone gathered at Aunt Lenora’s house (Tillie Galanti Tenenbaum’s mother) to cook.”
Feldman’s father hailed from Bedrum, Turkey, and her mother was from the Isle of Rhodes. In 1997, Feldman, along with husband, Saul, and their grown children and spouses went with her cousins, Julia and her husband, Joe Soriano, and their children and spouses to the Isle of Rhodes.
She related, “It was magical! We saw and toured the old synagogue and walked the stone lined streets of the ‘old quarter.’ My mother often spoke of the black sheshos, or pebbles, that made up the streets and, sure enough, I gathered some from the edges, and thanks to a willing son-in-law who carried my bags, I brought some home for a living memorial of a time forgotten.”
Julia and Renee were also able to find their mothers’ homes based on memories of their description of a double door which they photographed and gave to their grandkids who went on a school trip several years later. The latter was able to actually find and enter the home with the owner’s permission, along with a chaperone who interpreted for them.
She exclaimed, “It was so exciting to realize that they stood in their great-grandparents’ home almost 100 years later.”
During current times, Feldman makes quajados, burekas and biscochos at home. When her granddaughters come to Atlanta, they set aside special baking time.
She said, “It thrills me when an in-town grandson and my great-grandkids express a desire to come bake as well.”
Besides the usual burekas and biscochos, she prepares Sephardic-style rice and beans and squash to add to the festive holiday meals, plus special chestnut and pecan dressing for Thanksgiving that her mother adapted from an Atlanta Journal-Constitution cooking class for new immigrants in the 1930s.
Feldman’s culinary skills extend beyond the Sephardic realm, as she and Saul co-owned the Snack ‘N Shop Deli (eat in and take out) which pioneered gourmet “Jewish” delicacies like chopped liver, homestyle gefilte fish, special coleslaw, potato salad, and Manhattan-style bagels.
To experience Sephardic treats, the 47th annual Chanukah Bazaar at OrVe Shalom is one-day only, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 19, on North Druid Hills Road. For more info, visit www.orveshalom.org/event/bazaarfood2023.
From Feldman’s Recipe Book:
Sephardic Squash (Calavasa)
3 lbs yellow squash and/or zucchini
1 T oil
8 oz tomato sauce or canned whole tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 T chopped parsley
1T chopped basil
1 chicken bouillon cube
½ cup water
salt to taste
Cut squash into long spears. Spray 13 x 9 pan with Pam and arrange squash in single layer. Drizzle oil, sprinkle with garlic, onion, parsley and basil. Mix bouillon and water and pour over, then pour tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes. Cover tightly. Bake at 350º about 20 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Uncover, and bake an hour or so more, until brown.
(spinach and macaroni casserole) use farfel for Passover instead of noodles
2 packages frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and drained
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese or Romano
½ cup elbow macaroni
½ cup milk or 4 oz cottage cheese/optional add feta
1 tsp salt
Cook macaroni as directed. Drain spinach well. Beat eggs well, then mix with milk/ and /or cottage cheese thoroughly. Place all ingredients in large bowl and mix together well. Bake in hot 9×9 inch baking dish in preheated 400º oven for approximately 25 minutes.