Kreplach keep family tradition alive

Chicken soup with kreplach

Chicken soup with kreplach

Note to Readers from your host Bobbie Lewis: Got questions on any our food stories? Just ask us by adding a comment below. Our earlier story on pickles already has drawn questions—and answers.

I remember my grandmother’s kreplach, little pasta dumplings filled with beef and onions. They could turn an ordinary bowl of chicken soup into something ambrosial. They were something way beyond my mother’s limited cooking talents, so we enjoyed them only on infrequent trips from Philadelphia, where we lived, to Brooklyn, where my grandparents lived. I’m determined to remedy this deficit. I recently learned how to make kreplach from my friend Ruth Marcus, who invited me to her house for her family’s annual kreplach-making marathon.

(Kreplach, by the way, a Yiddish word, is plural. The singular is “krepl” — but no one ever eats just one!)

Every culture has something similar

Almost every culture has something similar to kreplach. You’re probably familiar with Italian ravioli, Polish pierogi and Chinese wontons. There’s also buuz (Mongolian), manti (Turkish), momo (Nepali), pelmeni (Russian) and many more ethnic permutations. Kreplach are usually triangular. Some say the three sides represent Judiasm’s three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but I think that’s what we generously call a “bubba meise” – an old wives’ tale.

Ruth, on the other hand, is an inspiration. Every year for more than 35 years, she has been gathering her family – first her own three children, now her daughter and the three granddaughters who live nearby – to make hundreds of kreplach in a single afternoon.

Transmitting family recipes—and values

Mema's kreplach recipe has a prominent place on the counter on Kreplach Day.

Mema’s kreplach recipe has a prominent place on the counter on Kreplach Day.

Ruth is living proof that cooking with children and grandchildren is one of the best ways to transmit family values and lore. She grew up in Baltimore, eating kreplach made by her grandmother, Lillian Miller. Now she uses the recipe from Lillian – known to Ruth’s children and grandchildren as Mema – along with several family objects that have taken on almost ritual significance.

There’s a tablecloth Mema gave to Ruth as a shower gift, now used only for rolling out kreplach. There’s Mema’s old wooden rolling pin, and a pretty china plate that once belonged to Mema, where the kreplach rest before going into the pot.

As toddlers, granddaughters Isabel Johnson, 7, and Olivia Johnson, 5, played with small portions of kreplach dough while the grownups worked. Ruth gently teases them about how they used to sit in their highchairs and say, “Roll it, roll it, roll it.”

Ruth Marcus fills a batch of kreplach with her daughter, Lauren Marcus Johnson, and granddaughter Isabel Johnson, 7.

Ruth Marcus fills a batch of kreplach with her daughter, Lauren Marcus Johnson, and granddaughter Isabel Johnson, 7.

Now Isabel is experienced enough to roll and cut the dough, and Olivia can portion out bits of ground beef for the filling. Both can fold the square pieces of dough into triangles and crimp the edges. Ruth’s oldest grandchild, Sydney Marcus, 18, goes to college in Colorado but timed her summer visit back home to Michigan to coincide with Kreplach Day.

Ruth and the girls knead, roll and cut the dough, and fill, fold and crimp the dumplings. Ruth’s daughter, Lauren Marcus Johnson, mans the stove; each burner holds a big pot of boiling water. Ruth’s husband, David, is in charge of packaging: 12 kreplach go into a zip-closed sandwich bag, then the filled sandwich bags go into a gallon-sized freezer bag.

A few small bags will go to friends, but most will be frozen and enjoyed later at the Marcus’ Sabbath and festival dinners. They’ll start eating this year’s batch at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, in September and finish the last kreplach next spring before Passover, when everything made with flour has to be tossed or locked away.

The secret ingredients

Granddaughters Olivia Johnson, 5, and Sydney Marcus, 18, work on a batch of kreplach.

Granddaughters Olivia Johnson, 5, and Sydney Marcus, 18, work on a batch of kreplach.

There’s more to kreplach than flour, egg, water, beef, parsley and onion. “What are the secret ingredients?” asks Ruth. “Love!” says Isabel. “And telling the stories.”

The little girls never met Mema, their great-great-grandmother. But they can tell the story about how she came to America from a farm in a little village in Russia. Mema was 8 and her sister was 4. Her father had already left. Her mother hired a wagon to take them to the train, and Mema’s little legs dangled off the back of the wagon. She waved goodbye to her grandmother and grandfather, knowing she would never see them again.

Ruth says the one pound of meat in this recipe will make between 80 and 100 kreplach. “You can stop when you have used up the dough, or you can make another batch of dough. It never comes out even! If you have a little meat left over, shape and cook a hamburger!”

Detroit SOUP: A grassroots recipe for nourishing community

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It’s a cheap dinner out!
It’s a fundraiser!
It’s a community builder!
It’s democracy in action!
It’s a Champion of Change recognized by the White House!
Actually, Detroit SOUP is all of the above!

Detroit SOUP  is a tremendously successful grassroots enterprise that started in 2010 in Detroit’s Mexicantown area (that’s part of the city’s wonderfully diverse southwest side). Kate Daughdrill and Jessica Hernandez got a small group of friends together for soup dinners in a loft above a bakery and gave the funds they took at the door back to the community.

Detroit SOUP: Recycling one of Detroit’s treasures

Their idea took off!

Detroit SOUP was founded in Detroit in 2010 by Kate Daughdrill and Jessica Hernandez

CLICK THE PHOTO to learn more about Detroit SOUP!

So, Detroit SOUP moved to a permanent home in Detroit’s New Center area. If you’re passing through Michigan, Detroit SOUP is now located near our landmark Fisher Building in the former home of Detroit’s once-famous Jam Handy studios. Like so much in the Motor City, this is recycling at its best. Long vacant, Jam Handy once was on the cutting edge of commercial filmmaking. The studio produced the 1944 cartoon version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as well as countless commercials and industrial-training films.

When is the next Detroit SOUP event? Coming right up July 14! (Click the Detroit SOUP photo, at right, to get all the details.)

Voting for the best proposal at DetroitSOUP

Voting for the best proposal at DetroitSOUP. Photo by Dave Lewinski.

What happens? Volunteers plan and carry out monthly dinners for more than 200 guests, who pay $5 to sit at long communal tables made of old doors and boards and enjoy a dinner of soup, bread and salad (all the food is donated). During the meal, diners hear up to four short proposals from people who need a little financial boost to get a community project or artistic endeavor off the ground. Everyone present votes on the proposal they like best, and the winner gets a little grant for his or her project.

WHITE HOUSE HONORS: Detroit SOUP has been so successful at bringing people together and promoting community betterment that its director, Amy Kaherl, was honored by the White House as a Champion of Change in the “crowdsourcing” category.

Detroit SOUP:
An idea that’s easy to imitate

It’s such a cool idea—and one that is easy for other communities to copy. In fact, Detroit SOUP didn’t invent it. They got the idea from InCUBATE in Chicago, a group dedicated to exploring new approaches to arts administration and funding. InCUBATE started Sunday Soup dinners in 2007. (Sunday Soup returned to Chicago last year after taking a two-year break.) The Sunday Soup idea has been implemented in nearly 90 communities around the world–mostly in the U.S. but also in Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan.

Soup at Spaulding, 2010

Soup at Spaulding, 2010

One of the winning projects at DetroitSOUP was Spaulding Court in Detroit. My son-in-law, Jon Koller, heads a nonprofit organization that is renovating this dilapidated 100-year-old townhouse community. And then Friends of Spaulding Court copied the DetroitSOUP idea. For several years they ran a similar fundraising soup dinner called Soup at Spaulding. (Heading to Detroit and want to find Spaulding Court? It’s off 12th Street, aka Rosa Parks, a few blocks north of the old Tiger Stadium site.)

During its three short years, Detroit SOUP has given back more than $27,000 to Detroit. The micro-grants have gone to a wide array of projects, including Veronika Scott’s Empowerment Plan, which produces coats that can be turned into sleeping bags for the homeless, and a high school group’s screen printed apparel project.

Detroit SOUP: Connecting the community

“Never in my wildest imagination did I think SOUP would grow to become a staple to the flow of the city,” said Amy Kaherl, who grew up and went to college in Michigan and then studied theology and popular culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasedena, Calif.

“SOUP has a natural way of connecting people. We are meeting to have a shared experience. People can bump elbows sitting next to one another on the floor, stand a little less awkwardly in line together, and talk about what project they think would best benefit from their $5. We have watched friendships made, jobs found, resources shared, projects find new collaborators, and even a couple meet and marry.”

Amy says SOUP gives her a way to study connection and meaning in our everyday experiences.  Take a look at this little clip from NBC Nightly News , where Amy says, “It’s a chance to draw people together, share ideas over a simple meal like soup, salad and bread and hear how people really want to help continue to revitalize the city. I love just being a connecting point for people.”

Try this soup recipe

Read the Spirit writer Terry Gallagher wrote a recent series in the Our Values department about his family’s Soup-a-thon. For 13 weeks every fall, the Gallaghers cook up a big pot of soup and invite friends to join them for a soup dinner. Here’s one of the recipes Terry provided then for a simple kidney bean soup. It comes from the More-With-Less Cookbook, commissioned in 1976 by the Mennonite Central Committee as a way of encouraging church members to use food resources wisely and to encourage the philosophy that if residents of North America use less, they can increase the food resources available elsewhere in the world.

Let us hear from you!

Do you think a program like DetroitSOUP would work in your community? Why or why not?

Do you have a good “more-with-less” soup recipe or a good soup story to share?

PLEASE, help us spread the news to friends: Click the blue-”f” icon, either at top or bottom of this story, and share this article with your friends on Facebook.

(Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, interfaith news and cross-cultural issues.)

Welcome to Feed the Spirit! Got a story, a recipe, a question?

Bobbie Lewis in her kitchen, armed for this new challenge. BUT, the success of FeedTheSpirit ultimately depends on you, as readers, to share your stories, recipes, ideas and questions!

Bobbie Lewis in her kitchen, armed for this new challenge. BUT, the success of FeedTheSpirit ultimately depends on you, as readers, to share your stories, recipes, ideas and questions!

ReadTheSpirit is proud to introduce our newest department: FeedTheSpirit, a section we are launching to share stories, recipes and questions from readers about foods that are linked to faith and culture. Your host for this new department is veteran food writer Bobbie Lewis. She will keep stirring the pot in this new department, week by week, so you’ll always find a fascinating new story or recipe or Q&A each week.
Here is Bobbie’s first column …

In the immortal words of James Stockdale (who you’ve probably already forgotten was Ross Perot’s running mate in his third-party campaign for president in 1996), “Who am I and what am I doing here?”

There are a lot of words that could describe me: retiree, public relations professional, wife, mother (of 3), grandmother (of 1), Conservative Jew, liberal, feminist. If I had to sum up my professional career in one word it would be “writer.”

I started as a general assignment reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper. After moving to Michigan more than 36 years ago, I had a long career in communications for nonprofit organizations, including the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, Sinai Hospital, Hospice of Michigan and Lutheran Social Services.

I’m also someone who loves good food. I love to cook and as my scale shows—I also love to eat.

recipe folder

My recipe file – you can see why it needs organizing!

After I retired from full-time work last summer, I determined to get my recipes in order. They were scattered among a file box, an accordion-file folder, and more than one manila folder, not to mention several dozen cookbooks. In the course of transcribing all the clippings and handwritten cards I actually want to keep into a gigantic Word document (I reckon I’m about one-third of the way there), I decided to share my fave recipes via a blog, Bobbie’s Best Recipes.

This caught the attention of David Crumm, editor of ReadTheSpirit. I knew David from his days as religion writer at the Detroit Free Press, when I would pitch him religion-related stories about my employers. I’ve subscribed to ReadTheSpirit since its inception.

I have long been interested in interfaith relations. This may stem from seven years as the only Jewish girl in an almost completely Protestant elementary school class. I am active with WISDOM, which stands for Women’s Interfaith Dialogue for Solutions and Dialogue in Metro Detroit and is a group dedicated to promoting cross-cultural friendships. (WISDOM literally wrote the book on that, called Friendship & Faith.) Currently, I also serve on the planning committee for the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) conference to be held in Detroit in August 2014.

So when David invited me to moderate a blog about food and its relation to faith, family and culture, I leaped at the opportunity.

I hope many of you will help me in this effort by sharing, commenting or asking a question.

Do you have a great story about food that’s also about faith, family, friendship or culture? Please share it with me—I’m looking for guest bloggers who can take over this space from time to time.

Don’t hesitate to share your comments about any of the stories or recipes that appear here, And feel free to ask a question—about anything that might be unclear in a post or about something you’d like to see here. Perhaps you’re looking for a recipe connected to a religious holiday or an ethnic community and you haven’t been able to find it. We’ll put out the request, and maybe another reader will be able to help.

I hope you’ll think of FeedTheSpirit as an online community of people interested in food and in faith—and in how the twain often meet.