“Best Ever Brisket.” Those are fightin’ words but that’s what Nancy Turetsky calls the brisket recipe she included in her family cookbook.
Nancy and Stan Turetsky, retired educators and Westbury residents since 1967, are part of a large and far-flung immigrant family—the descendants of patriarch Schmoel Shoel Cominsky, from the “shtetle” of Hamovitz in Belarus. Stan’s grandmother was a Cominsky (“cominsky” means “from Minsk,” the largest city of Belarus). Schmoel Shoel had 15 children from three marriages. He arrived in New York City at the turn of the 20th century and Stan’s grandmother arrived three years later. There, the first generation of the family lived a typical immigrant life in close proximity to each other in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn.
“Saturdays and Sundays they were in each other’s homes,” said Stan.
The ties deepened in 1928 when at a family celebration, a few of the relatives got together and decided to form a Family Circle. This type of self-help organization, called a landsmanschaft in Yiddish, is an immigrant benevolent society formed by people who came from the same locality to deal with social, economic and cultural problems and to provide a framework for mutual assistance. One primary aspect of the Cominsky Family Circle was the purchase of cemetery plots. A few rich relations chipped in for land at Mt. Hebron and Wellwood cemeteries; members who paid dues had burial rights. Today, says Stan, there are 150 plots left in Wellwood but he doubts they will be needed, with the family scattered all over the country. “With all the cousins,” he says, “I can pass some on the street and not know they were blood relatives.” Stan estimates there are 450 relatives at present. Last year he established a website—cominskyfamily.org—to try to keep track of the family and its history.
The idea for the cookbook was generated at another family gathering, a funeral. “The cousins were sitting around reminiscing,” says Nancy, and they were especially remembering the great food they enjoyed as children. Nancy and her cousin Ellen Kinigson decided to canvas the family and put together a cookbook, which they named All in the Family: The Cominsky Family Cookbook.
There were some surprises. Grandma Betty’s spaghetti turned out to be made with three cans of Del Monte spaghetti sauce. Another relative’s “secret” gefilte fish features a jar of Mrs. Adler’s Gefilte Fish.
Looking through the recipes, this could be my own grandmother’s recipe book, not that she ever wrote one down. The soups are there: borscht, shav and mushroom barley. And lots of savory kugels and noodle puddings. And then there’s the chopped liver section featuring five recipes for chopped liver: Kate’s Chopped Liver and Chopped Chicken Liver–Blanche’s Style (Kate sautés her liver and uses spices; Blanche boils her liver and seasons with salt and pepper); and three fake chopped liver recipes made with ingredients like lentils, walnuts and green beans, these coming into existence at a time when Jews across America began to realize that liver and chicken fat might not be the healthiest thing to eat.
Looking for easy? It doesn’t get easier than Helen Miller’s Gefilte Fish Terrine made up of just three ingredients—a loaf of defrosted gefilte fish, five carrots peeled and sliced, and 10 ounces of frozen chopped spinach, defrosted. Assembled according to directions and bake.
All the classic Jewish desserts are there—rugelah, mandel bread, hamantashen.
And of course, Nancy’s Best Ever Brisket, which she says she got from a colleague at work.
I made the brisket. It was delicious. Best ever? I thought so, but that’s for you to decide.
Here’s the recipe.
Best Ever Brisket
4 lbs. beef brisket
1 onion sliced
½ cup ketchup
½ cup Heinz chili sauce
2 tbsp. brown sugar
5-6 cloves of garlic
1 12 oz. can of beer
Salt and pepper
1. Season meat with salt and pepper and place in a 9 by 13 inch pan.
2. Cover the meat with the sliced onion.
3. Combine ketchup, chili sauce, sugar, garlic and beer and pour over the meat.
4. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 300 degrees for 4 hours.
5. Remove foil and bake uncovered for 35 to 40 minutes.
6. Remove meat from pan.
7. To make gravy, with an immersion blender or a blender, blend all liquid from the pan (before blending the gravy, you might want to put it in the fridge so the fat can be removed when it comes to the top).
8. Cook and stir until thick. Cool meat and slice cross-grain.
9. Lay sliced meat in baking dish and reheat.
10. Serve with gravy.