By Hannah Reich Berman
Non-kosher food isn’t something I think about. I have never eaten it and I never plan to eat it. For me there is no option. I don’t mean to sound as if I’m pontificating. I am merely stating a fact. There is, however, one exception to my claim about never having thought about non-kosher food. I’ve thought of bacon. It might be because, many years ago, kosher Bacos and other “kosher bacon” products were introduced to the market. I know there are also such things as “turkey bacon” and “duck bacon.” Possibly just curious to know what bacon tastes like, some people bought kosher Bacos and sprinkled it on their salads. Others added strips of “kosher bacon” to their eggs to get the idea of what bacon and eggs tastes like!
I’ve never ingested any of that. I’m not entirely sure who is responsible for the popularity of these products, but that is irrelevant. The bottom line is that kosher bacon is still available in some stores and restaurants. Never having eaten either real or imitation bacon, I am nevertheless familiar with it. I recognize it, having seen it countless times on television commercials and in magazine ads. And I have a confession to make: from the first time that I saw bacon, it fascinated me. The reason for my fascination was that bacon appears to consist of equal parts meat and fat. I mean, what is that white stuff if not fat? And it amazes me that people would choose to eat pure fat.
Smugness is not an attractive trait, but I admit to being smug on the issue of ingesting recognizable fat. If I see the tiniest bit of fat on a steak (on the rare occasion that I eat red meat), I trim it so fast that the sparks fly with my knife and fork! Therefore, I have two questions on the topic of eating pure fat, and they are as follows: How can anyone eat it? and Why would they want to? And yet a great many people love bacon. I know this to be true because I’m a devotee of cooking shows on the Food Network. To the best of my knowledge, there does not yet exist a kosher-food-only cooking program on television, so I’m able to watch only what’s available.
Preparation of food, not to mention creativity in the kitchen, has long held my interest. And on nearly every program, the chef adds bacon to whatever dish he or she is preparing. Some Food Network programs, notably Cupcake Wars and Chopped, which are two of my favorites, are not instructional; rather, they are, respectively, baking and cooking competitions. Each of those programs features a panel of judges who are there to determine the winner and a coordinator who predetermines the ingredients that must be incorporated into each dish. That is correct! Contestants don’t get to “freestyle” their preparations but, instead, must use ingredients that are provided for them. And occasionally they’re forced to include bacon in their cupcakes. It’s hard to imagine anything more ludicrous, since bacon is considered to be a savory food while desserts are customarily sweet, and the two don’t usually go together. But all bets are off in these competitions. The objective is to shake things up, or at least to shake up the contestants—probably because the winner receives $10,000, and no one gives away $10,000 easily.
My husband, Arnie, always laughed when he saw me watching a cooking show. A genuinely funny guy, Hubby’s comment never varied. He would look at me as I kept my eyes glued to the television screen, and he would say, “What’s wrong with this picture? You’re always watching cooking shows and I’m still eating the same old slop.” Then he would laugh at his own joke. Hubby often cracked himself up. I would laugh too—but only briefly, because I didn’t want to be distracted from whatever program I was watching at the time.
Putting aside television programming, as well as Hubby’s terrific sense of humor, I now return to the issue of my smug attitude with regard to eating pure fat. I recently had my comeuppance. It happened when I remembered that, as a child, I consumed ‘gribenes’ as if it were going out of style. And exactly what is gribenes if not pure fat? That delectable and savory treat is made by rendering chicken fat until the fat melts and becomes liquid. After collecting the rendered fat, known as schmaltz (ugh), one then fries the pieces of chicken skin (double ugh) with onion to produce a batch of gribenes. These end up being small, irregularly shaped morsels that are a gastronomic delight. As I recall, some pieces were hard and crackly and some were chewy. And all of them were a heart attack in the making.
Tupperware was formulated in 1942, but it didn’t find its way into my parents’ house until many years later, so my mother would put those delicious little pieces of rendered fat into a glass bowl, cover the bowl, and place it in the refrigerator. I must digress here and acknowledge that, in my earliest years, we didn’t own a refrigerator; we had something known as an icebox. For those too young to appreciate the difference, an icebox was exactly that. A box that held ice! And, when the ice melted, as all ice eventually does, there was often a puddle of water on our kitchen floor. I doubt that it was supposed to happen quite like that, but in my parents’ house it occasionally did. And when that happened, within a day someone would bring a new block of ice to us. This someone was referred to by my mother as The Ice Man.
Getting back to the gribenes: it was refrigerated overnight and taken out the next day to be chopped into tiny pieces and then incorporated into my mother’s homemade chopped liver, which my father referred to as gehockteh layba. The division of responsibility was sacrosanct; my mother made the liver and the hardboiled eggs and my father chopped the gribenes and a raw onion, and added salt and (what else?) a healthy measure of schmaltz! In my father’s mind, I guess it wasn’t sufficient that the liver itself contained enough cholesterol to kill an army or that the yoke of the eggs contained fat or that the skin had been fried in schmaltz; my father added more schmaltz! If eating that chopped liver wasn’t bad enough, there were times when I snatched a few pieces of the gribenes when no one was looking.
All of that leads me to ask myself the following questions: How do I have the audacity to criticize people who eat bacon, and how do I justify feeling smug? That’s the way it once was, but now that my memory has been jarred, that’s no longer the way it is. Bacon will never be something I’ll eat, but I will no longer judge those who do. v
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-902-3733.