Tuesday, December 5, 2023

What the Immigrants Knew

Cranberry Pistachio Cake | recipe developed by Karen of www.BakingInATornado.com | #recipe #dinner

I've been thinking a lot about what's missing in our society today. Well, there's a whole lot missing, like honesty, political representation, a shared vision for this country, integrity, basic morals and values, to name a few. You probably know how I feel about these issues if you read this blog regularly.

But those are more national issues, visible on a macro level. Today I'm thinking more on a micro level, looking at the core of who we were and what we've lost.

And what we've lost is a sense of community. 

We became segregated first by Covid and now the byproduct of the virus, the convenience and options provided by online shopping, the ability many have to work from home, take out delivered to our front door, the lack of any human customer service, now to a great degree provided by online bots. We have become much more isolated, in many ways disconnected from our shared humanity, by the decline in day to day, face to face human interpersonal interaction.

Political, religious, and racial tribalism is fast becoming another nail in our collective societal coffin. 

What the Immigrants Knew | graphic designed by, featured on, and property of Karen of www.BakingInATornado.com | #MyGraphics #blogging

I was really lucky. I had my great grandmother, Bubbe (Yiddish for grandmother) until I was in my mid-twenties. In one way, I had her longer than that. My mother's cousin, back when Bubbe was in (I think) her 80s, sat her in front of a tape recorder and told her to talk. She told stories from all the way back to her childhoood in Russia, of the pogroms, how her cousins came to be her half siblings, how they came to this country when her half-brother was (falsely) accused of murder. After she was gone, I still had her voice, telling so many fascinating stories that could have been lost.

But, of course, she couldn't possibly imagine that the one story I've been trying to piece together lately was worth mentioning. This one took place after she came to this country, and married Zayde (Yiddish for grandfather), another Russian immigrant, who I never met.

I grew up knowing that for some amount time, they had taken someone into their home. I can't figure out whether or not at that point they'd had all of their 5 children. I do know that at least some of them were there, so they were a family of up to 7, living in a small house in Roxbury, MA in the early 1900s. I also know that even my great uncle, the youngest of them, knew him well (at some point) and spoke of him in later years. I wish I'd asked my uncle then the questions I have now.

Because now it's kind of muddled, the memories of those of us who are two and three generations removed don't completely gel. My mother seems to remember that the man they took in had a drinking problem, my uncle is pretty sure he didn't. What they agree on is that he needed help of some kind and my great grandparents stepped up. My uncle remembers that he was characterized as a friend of the Goldman (the last name assigned to Zayde and some but not all of the family, at Ellis Island) family. Bubbe and Zayde owned a very small corner store/grocery, and apparently he hung out there, even helped out both at the store and at home when he was needed.
I don't know what circumstances led to him living with my great grandparents, how long he was there, or even what ultimately happened to him, other than he was part of their lives for longer than he lived in the home.

Bubbe and Zayde were immigrants living in a small house, running a little community store, and trying to get by. They didn't have much. But their friend both gave what he could and accepted what he needed. He was welcome in their home and shared meals at their dinner table. He became family.

Cranberry Pistachio Cake | recipe developed by Karen of www.BakingInATornado.com | #recipe #dinner

Cranberry Pistachio Cake


Now, you may be thinking that Jewish Russian immigrants helping each other out in a new country isn't really much of a surprise. But here's where I make my point.

The man who became like family? His name was John Donovan.

Bubbe's and Zayde's inclusion, their camaraderie, their compassion, reached further than their tribe. It encompassed their entire and yes, diverse, community.

Baking In A Tornado signature | www.BakingInATornado.com | #MyGraphics

Cranberry Pistachio Cake

1 box white cake mix
1 box (3.4 oz) pistachio pudding mix
1/2 cup oil
1 cup milk
3 eggs
OPT: green food coloring
1/2 cup pistachios, shelled and chopped
18 fresh or frozen cranberries

1/4 cup cranberry juice

1 can (16 oz) cream cheese frosting
6 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 TBSP cranberry juice
OPT: red food coloring

*Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 9-inch cake pans.
*Sift 3 TBSP pudding mix (you want the powder only) and set aside for the frosting. Set aside 9 of the cranberries for decoration. Cut the rest of the cranberries into quarters.
*Beat cake mix, remaining pudding mix, oil, milk, eggs, (and, if desired, a few drops of green food coloring) for 2 minutes. Fold in half of the chopped pistachios. Spread evenly into the prepared pans. Sprinkle 1/3 of the quartered cranberries onto each cake batter. Gently press just barely into the batter.
*Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the center of the tops spring back to the touch. Cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pans and cool completely. Place the bottom layer onto a serving plate.
*Using a pastry brush, brush 1/4 cup of the cranberry juice onto each cake layer.
*Beat together the cream cheese frosting, cream cheese, reserved pudding mix, powdered sugar, remaining 2 TBSP cranberry juice, (and, if desired, a few drops of red food coloring). Reserve 1/3 cup of the frosting to a piping bag and refrigerate for decoration.
*Use about 1/4 of the remaining frosting to frost the bottom layer, place the middle layer on top and use about the same amount to frost this layer. Add the top layer, then frost the top and sides with the other half of the frosting. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
*Decorate the top of the cake with the reserved frosting, remaining cranberries, and remaining chopped pistachios.


  1. What a cool story! We usually have a stray around our house as well. For awhile, it was the international student who was my oldest son's roommate in college who couldn't afford to go home for holidays. Currently we love on a student at the local state college who is here from many states away. Giving love makes everything better!

    1. Our goal as humans need to be to make the world our community.

  2. I was just reading an article on the death of civility because our communities have disintegrated. It's very sad.

    On the other hand, your cake does NOT look sad. It looks delicious.

    1. I've written about the loss of civility too, it's all just too overwhelming. Cake helps . . .

  3. Your story is interesting. So many things have changed over the years. My last living uncle (he just turned 99) was a college professor and he and his family used to house exchange students. I was fortunate to visit them when they had one of those students. It was quite the experience, that visit to a small town in Iowa that I've blogged about. So what happened? I think many of us were feeling isolated even before the pandemic; COVID just sped things along. If only we could unite over cake but I think we are way past that. It isn't just us. It seems to be the whole world.

    1. Yes, it really, at this point, comes down to moral vs immoral, truth vs lies.

  4. Growing up, our house was open to friends from all walks of life, ethnicities, etc. Raising our kids, our home was the hangout for any neighborhood child, from any background (and we have a mix), who wanted to come by, and a few who had trouble at home stayed with us (one still calls me "mom" and I'm his son's gran-gran).

    It's a joy to reach out, I wish more people would do so and realize how much it changes everything.

  5. What a bloody interesting story, any immigrants in my family most likely came over with the first fleet or around that time ..............lol

    1. I wish I had asked my grandmother more questions about how this all came about.

    2. We take things for granted when we are young and don't think to ask questions or keep records of things told us


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