| My mom was not a gourmet. She hated onions and garlic and never used them in any dish she prepared. We had a mid-20th century dinner served up at the kitchen table. Spaghetti, meatloaf, lamb chops, roast chicken, breaded fish, canned vegetables… baby boomers will probably recognize this menu. As the years went by my mom extended her repertoire to include lasagna, green salads with bacobits and croutons from a can, and that was about it. |
I’m not complaining. She cooked with love in her heart and enjoyed feeding us. My mom grew up in the Depression and saw hungry, frightened people. She understood the blessing of abundance. My father experienced hunger and privation. He knew food insecurity. So there was no fooling around or whining about what we didn’t want to eat. There was no empathy for different tastes. There was no such thing as a picky eater.
My mom did not bake; there were no fancy desserts. But one day at the end of meal she served up a coffee crumble cake from a white and blue box. It was my first experience of Entenmann’s baked goods. And it was good – I mean, really delicious! Entenmann’s became a standard go-to in my home. Chocolate covered donuts, powdered sugar donuts (I always aspirated the sugar…), chocolate chip cookies, butter pound cake, cheese twist danish; these were a few of my favorite things.
Entenmann’s went kosher sometime in the 80s and became a staple at Shabbat oneg tables from Brooklyn to San Jose. The boxes of goodies became a symbol of comfort and simple pleasure. Like my mom’s cooking, it wasn’t fussy or fancy. But it hit the spot.
I always assumed that Entenmann’s was a Jewish family business that grew from a shop in New York City in the late 1800s to an industrial kitchen on Long Island. It seemed like such a Jewish story: immigrants work hard and make a fortune feeding people. Even the name sounded Jewish.
Charles Edward Entenmann, the family patriarch who helped make the company a national brand, died a few weeks ago at the age of 92. He was the grandson of the man who launched the bakery in Brooklyn in 1898. I was shocked to learn from the obituary that, in fact, the Entenmann family was not Jewish – ever! I was actually more than shocked: I was sad that the Entenmann family wasn’t Jewish. More than the family name or the blue and white box or the OU kosher symbol, it was the specific brand of comfort an Entenmann’s cake or cookie would evoke. I don’t know why.
We loved Sara Lee cakes in my family, but it just wasn’t the same. It may have been a bit more expensive and so it felt like a ‘special occasion’ dessert. But the blue and white box was home. Entenmann’s is owned by a multinational corporation now. It’s far from Brooklyn. Yet the nostalgia remains: for a seemingly less complicated world. These days I’d do anything to nestle up to a quiet news day with a piece of crumble coffee cake.