Whenever I serve a little bubbly in one of my eight vintage champagne coupes (think dainty goblet, not flute), I like to tell the story of the Manhattan wedding of my Great Aunt Frances to my Great Uncle Conrad in the ‘30s. It was, by all accounts, a stylish affair. I explain to my guests that my aunt gave me several of her nuptial-toasting glasses a few years back, telling me she thought I would appreciate them better than her own granddaughter, who lives in rural West Virginia and studies insects or plants or rocks or something having to do with the ground. I made a special trip to visit my ailing Aunt Frances with Mamma and my Grandma Lipstick (yes, she wears a lot of lipstick!) last month, and I came home with the four remaining coupes from the original set of twelve, along with strict instructions from Frances to host a grand dinner party with them. And to “please find a man already, Kimberly!”
Visiting Frances and Conrad is indeed a “trip:” needlepoint stitchings of revered former rabbis hung over the vaguely Arabian Nights-style, purple couch, sugar-free hard candy from 1989 stuck together in a glass dish on the side table, and matching twin sized adjustable beds that have more than just a whiff of “hospital” about them. Aunt Frances hasn’t been doing so well for the past couple of years, and as soon as you see her, she reminds you. Then Conrad makes some kind of joke (to my cousin Natalie, who recently got back from Paris, “I only know a little bit of French. Hee, hee – ‘Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?’ Do you know what that means?”), and Frances yells at him for talking too much. They’ve bickered with each other for as long as I can remember, but who am I to judge? They’ve been married for almost 70 years so something must be working.
Frances is known in our family for being quite a good cook, but this time it was her nurse Slava who made the boiled pierogies. I can’t say I was a fan. I prefer them fried with onions and dark sear marks that promise they’ve been cooked in butter (like Frances used to make ‘em); these were a little gummy for my taste. But there were also bagels and cream cheese and lox, of course. Turns out, Slava is from the same region of the Ukraine—Galicia—as Frances’s mother, who, in her heyday, was a caterer herself. That side of the family owned Parnes Kosher Bakery in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, (Grandma Lipstick’s job was to stand out front and attract “customers”) and Frances told me stories ranging from how two of her fingers got sliced off in a bread-making machine (yikes!) to how her mother would make strawberry shortcake so big that it didn’t fit in the fridge (yum!). Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay and talk for too long because she tires easily, but it made me feel good to hear that I’m not the first woman in my family who’s in her element in the heat of the kitchen.
I adore my set of champagne coupes, but the real treasure is that with every toast, I’m raising a glass to my family’s food history.