Mortar and Pestle #lithuania


Ann Rabinowitz <annrab@...>
 

The other day, after reading my article on heirloom candlesticks in
"Scattered Seeds" (published by the JGSPBCI), Howard Margol mentioned to me
that his great grandmother had passed down to him candlesticks and a brass
mortar and pestle. In addition, Saul Issroff also mentioned that a mortar
and pestle had been handed down to him as well >from his family in Linkuva,
Lithuania.

My response was that the essential elements of a Jewish domestic goddess in
those days were her candlesticks, her mortar and pestle, and her perina or
feather comforter and perhaps her samovar. These were items which travelled
with her wherever she went and settled.

It brought to mind to consider what use did Howard's and Saul's ancestresses
have for the mortar and pestle. While not a kitchen staple today, the
mortar and pestle did heavy duty in our Litvak and other kitchens of yore.
The mortar and pestle's history derives >from ancient roots as far back as
Egypt and biblical times. It has taken many forms and sizes depending on
the use it was put to. It has been made >from such materials as wood, brass,
marble, stone, ceramic or porcelain.

The mortar and pestle were used to grind herbs and spices for cooking such
as horseradish root, garlic, seseme seeds, and cinnamon sticks. There was
also the pervasive use of nuts in Jewish cooking which would have required
the services of a mortar and pestle, along with perhaps cooking grains,
matzah meal and even grinding meat. Most of all, it would have been used
for preparing coffee beans where coffee grinders were not available or did
not do as good a job. The mortar and pestle was also the basic tool for
preparing any medicinal items for use in family illnesses.

As our ancestors became modernized and began to purchase more items >from
retail stores rather than preparing them >from scratch in their own kitchens,
the use of the mortar and pestle came into disuse. So, if any of you find,
like Howard and Saul did, that you have this "ancient" kitchen implement
handed down to you, you should treasure it. It is a reminder of the days
when Jewish mothers put in a hard day's work to prepare their family's meals
and put fresh food on the table under sometimes difficult and trying
circumstances.

Ann Rabinowitz
annrab@bellsouth.net

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