Gimme some gribbies (AKA gribbenes)

The 2013 championship word in the National Spelling Bee was “knaidel,” the Yiddish word for matzoh ball. The fact that a Yiddish word was even in the National Spelling Bee was a cause of consternation for many people who cherish European Jewish culture.

Yiddish, after all, is written in Hebrew characters, and there are many ways to transliterate it into English. For the Spellilng Bee word, varients include “kneydl” (the spelling preferred by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Culture), “knaydel” and “kneidel.” (The “k” is not silent, and the emphasis is on the first syllable. It rhymes with “cradle.”)

What other Yiddish food word will make it onto the spelling bee list? I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them is “schmaltz” – literally chicken or goose fat, but a word that has come to mean something overly emotional or corny. If you want to stick with food-related similes, you could say “cheesy,” though a kosher cook would never mix schmaltz with cheese.

A related word that I don’t think we’ll ever see on spelling lists is gribbenes, again because there are so many ways to spell it in English, including grieven and grievenes.

A rare treat

Growing up, we called it “gribbies” – and it was a real treat.

Gribbenes (rhymes with CRIB-a-miss) is what was left when thrifty homemakers of yore rendered chicken or goose fat. The word literally means “scraps.” Most Jews in those days observed the dietary laws separating milk and meat. For meat meals, they couldn’t use butter for frying, there was no such thing as margarine, and oil was a luxury, so most Jewish housewives kept a crock of schmaltz to use in cooking.

Gribbenes are completely unhealthy – but oh so delicious! Eating them once or twice a year won’t kill you. Eat them as is as a snack, or mix into noodles or a cooked vegetable as a side dish.

Here’s how to make schmaltz and gribbenes. Save the schmaltz (you can freeze it) for the next time you make knaidlach (the plural of the infamous “knaidel”).