An Interview with Shirley Berdie
Knollwood tenant, Shirley Berdie was born in Duluth, MN. There, she met her husband, John, and raised their three children. While juggling a young family, Shirley served as the president of the League of Women Voters and League of National Jewish Women in two states. She also graduated college with a teaching degree at 40 years old and taught special education and 4th grade for 20 years until she retired.
Stories are an integral part of family tradition, but it is especially rare when four generations of family come together to preserve their stories for posterity. Such is the case when Shirley’s family wrote and published a large cookbook chock-full of family recipes and narratives.
We sat down with Shirley and her daughter, Reine, to learn more about this family treasure.
Can you share a little background on the creation of your family cookbook Seasons and Seasonings?
Shirley: My cousins and I decided it would be good idea to write a Siegal Family cookbook. Siegal was my mother’s maiden name. One of the cousins was the chief tester of all the recipes (we had literally hundreds of recipes). I did the narrative and the third cousin did the typing.
Reine: The recipes were mingled among stories of the Siegal family. It’s broken down by seasons and holidays. The cookbook dates back four generations.
Did you sell the cookbooks to the public, or were they mainly meant as a family keepsake?
Shirley: We sold so many of the first printing that we had to have a second printing. We were in our local newspapers. I was in Duluth News Tribune, there was an article published in the Atlanta papers, and in the Birmingham papers. We sold every single copy we had and there are still people asking for them.
How many recipes did you contribute to the cookbook personally?
Shirley: My pot roast and tzimitze recipes are in there. A chicken salad recipe from Reine’s wedding. There might have been some others.
Reine, what is your favorite recipe from your mom or the family cookbook?
The Himmel Torte recipe in the cookbook is really good. It’s probably one of my favorites. I mean, how do you not like that? It’s butter with a little bit of raspberry between the butter layers.
The Himmel Torte recipe was from my grandmother. I remember one day my grandmother made it and she put wax paper between the layers and she forgot to take the wax paper out. She was older at this point. And so we were eating it and going: ‘Wow, this was really chewy…’ and we were trying to subtly take wax paper out of our mouths.
Do you have favorite family stories?
Shirley: One of my favorite stories is about my parent’s wedding cake. My father and mother tramped all around town because my mother wanted a special kind of a ribbon for it. They finally found it and here’s this gorgeous wedding cake. They decided not to cut into it because shortly after [their out-of-state wedding] there was going to be a party in Hibbing, MN for the new bride and groom. My father built a crate for the cake and they mailed it by slow train back to Hibbing. When they got to Hibbing they took this beautiful cake and placed it in the basement.
The wedding was Jan 25th and in April their special party was going to take place. They went and got the cake from the basement. And it was just the way that had packed it! It was beautiful: the ribbons and everything. They cut into it—it was green! It was moldy from top to the bottom. So that’s their wedding cake story.
Reine: And so these stories are reflected in the cookbook. Today, that’s my first choice for cooking, if I’m going to have company or for the holidays. It’s fun to look through it, see who made what. Sometimes I’ll say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to make this person’s recipe, but this person was a really good cook so we will go with this one.’ I think that as one of the best gifts that a generation could pass along.
As written in the cookbook:
We have adopted this torte from John’s family and, cholesterol or not, we would have to cancel Thanksgiving if we could not top off the holiday with this cake.
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
4 tablespoons sugar
4 egg yolks
4 cups flour
1 egg white
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chopped nuts
Cream butter, add sugar. Add yolks, one at a time, beat after each. Work in flour with hands. Pat into three 9-inch pans, greased and lined with parchment paper, and spread white of egg, beaten slightly, over top of each. Sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon and finely chopped nuts. Bake in 375 degree oven about 15 minutes. Cool. Spread raspberry jelly or jam between layers. Serve with Torte Cream Sauce.
Torte Cream Sauce
3 tablespoons softened butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream
Mix together and blend in whipped cream. Flavor with 1 tablespoon of sherry or rum, or 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla, or to taste. You have to try this at least once in your lifetime.