When my mother (Fraenze Vanson, also known as Grannie) died at the age of 80 in1994 her handwritten cookery books and scraps of paper with recipes remained where she had left them, on the kitchen shelf of the apartment in 8b Nili Street, Jerusalem, where she and her husband (Manfred, our father, Grandpa) had lived there since their Aliyah toIsrael in 1982. It was only after the death of Grandpa nine years later that we three ‘girls,’ their daughters, Dorothea, Esther and Ruth, ventured to clear their apartment and go through the various items they had left behind..
It was then that we started going through the cookery books and pieces of paper that our mother had accumulated and hoarded in various nylon bags and paper envelopes, or stashed between the covers of her cookery books. Several of her grandchildren remembered the delicious food Grannie had prepared, and asked us, her daughters, to let us have her recipes. But that was easier said than done.
Those cookery books were not the printed kind that you can buy in bookshops. Our mother had studied cookery as a young woman at a domestic science college in Berlin, Germany, in the 1930s. At that time, under Nazi rule, Jews were not allowed to attend university. As the youngest of four siblings, Fraenze had missed the chances that had been available to the first three children of the Hirsch family. Thus, Kurt had qualified as a doctor, Hannah as a dentist, and Else as a midwife. Cookery and nursing were the only career options that were open for Jewish women at that time, and our mother chose cookery. During her studies she wrote out the recipes she was taught in a stiff, Gothic script in an exercise book with hard covers. We three were not able to read or decipher this handwritten material, and it was only with the help and insights of our friend, Michele Dollfuss, that this was achieved. My sister Esther and I spent many evenings with Michele in her apartment in Jerusalem’s Abu Tor neighbourhood as she read out the recipes and Esther typed them in German into the computer, with me aiding and abetting in the background.
Fraenze’s studies stood her in good stead. At first, from about 1935 to 1938, she worked in her profession in the Jewish orphanage, the Paulinenstift, in Hamburg, Germany, and it was at a Hebrew class in that city that she met our father, Manfred van Son (later ‘anglicised’ to Vanson). Upon reaching England, late in 1938, she immediately found employment as a cook in a hostel for Jewish orphans in Manchester. After marrying Manfred, in September 1940, the two of them were employed as house-parents at the Sunshine Hostel in London for refugee (Kindertransport) children, first in Kingsbury and later in Hampstead. Because this was regarded as essential wartime work, they were spared internment on the Isle of Man, where many German-Jewish refugees were sent as ‘enemy aliens.’ In the book of her recipes that we published we included some of the menus Fraenze drew up for the Hostel for an average week as well as for the festivals. If we recall that this was at the time of the Second World War, when food was in short supply and rationing was in force, it can have been no mean feat to feed about twenty-five hungry children on a daily basis.
Translating the recipes from German to English, and then from English to Hebrew, has been a voyage of discovery that has taken us several years of enjoyable cooperation. We have included the German names of the dishes, as these are the terms by which some of them were known in our house (Marmorkuchen, Apfelmuss, Saftige Brust, for example). We have not tested the recipes, many of which are very terse and do not contain anything beyond the list of ingredients. Fraenze knew what she had to do, and doubtless never dreamed that one day her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would want to make the dishes she had learned as a young woman or prepared in her lifetime. Many of the recipes were added at a later stage, and had to be culled from the various scraps of paper on which Fraenze had jotted them down. These were mainly in English, in a clear, italic hand, and were much easier to read (but don’t have a German name).
The book of her recipes stands as a testimony to our mother’s dedication to producing tasty and nourishing food for her family and friends wherever she happened to be – whether in Hamburg, London or Jerusalem. Her memory, and that of our father, will always remain with us.