One of Marvin’s stories I love is how his Grandpa Herman and Grandma Sadie met and fell in love onboard a ship while emigrating to the United States. Grandpa Herman was a Russian Jew traveling from Minsk and Sadie was traveling from Hungary. Somewhere along the way, after their seasickness subsided, the two met above deck and fell in love. They arrived at Ellis Island where Herman changed his last name and proposed to Sadie and that is how Herman & Sadie
Milstein Miller’s life together in America began.
Or so the story goes, according to Marvin.
Yesterday as I was getting ready to prepare Brisket with Tzimmes (a recipe I had never even heard of until Sunday when Marvin described his mother’s version with such absolute fondness that I just had to try and recreate it for him) I reached out to Marvin’s sister, Marilyn, for some recipe advice.
One thing led to another in our conversation and somehow we got to the story of how Herman met Sadie. “On the boat to America, right?” I asked.
“No, no,” Marilyn laughed, “they met in East Cleveland!“
Ahhh. I see. Well, that does actually make more sense. Not quite as good of a story, though, is it? And all this time I had been picturing them in a scene from Titanic…
Well, needless to say, Sadie did emigrate to the United States from Hungary (just not on the same boat as Herman) and she was an excellent cook. Brisket with Tzimmes was one of the many recipes she made for her family and passed on to her Methodist daughter-in-law, Helen, who happened to be Marv’s mother. (Eventually Grandpa Herman began to prefer Helen’s cooking over Sadie’s, but I will leave that story for another day.)
In the meantime, back to the Brisket & Tzimmes (pronounced simmis). Neither Sadie or Helen wrote down their recipes, so Marilyn couldn’t help me much. I just had to take my best guess. I read Marvin the ingredients listed in several recipes that I found online, and then just cobbled together my own version based on what he remembered.
For those of you unfamiliar with this dish, Tzimmes is a traditional Ashkenazi stew made with carrots and other root vegetables, and dried prunes or raisins. Some recipes call for orange juice and some for tomato juice. Some include vinegar. Most contain both brown sugar and honey. And, sometimes a brisket is stewed in the sauce, then sliced and served along-side the vegetables.
This isn’t something you can throw together at the last minute (although I suppose it would be easy enough to make in a slow cooker). It’s one of those recipes you start at about 3:00 pm so by the time dinner rolls around the entire house smells so good you can hardly wait to eat.
I loved making Brisket with Tzimmes for Marvin yesterday. It was fun to share a delicious meal tied together with family history and childhood memories.
Here is my recipe for Brisket with Tzimmes – adapted from several I found online.
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 2.5 lb. beef brisket, trimmed
- 3 small sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and chunked
- 1 large yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
- 2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and chunked
- 8 oz. pitted dried prunes
- 2 cups tomato juice
- 1 cup beef broth
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 3 Tbsp. honey
- salt and pepper
- Heat oil in a heavy bottomed Dutch oven or roasting pan with a lid.
- Season the brisket with salt and pepper. Add the brisket to the pot and brown well on both sides.
- Drain off any excess fat.
- Mix together the tomato juice, beef broth, sugar and honey.
- Spread the onions and prunes over the beef and then cover with the tomato/beef broth mixture.
- Turn the burner down to low and simmer, covered for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Add the sweet potatoes, carrots and potatoes to the pot. Stir gently to cover with the sauce.
- Place the pot in the oven and cook for an additional 1 1/2 hours until the brisket is very tender.
- Remove the brisket from the pot and slice against the grain. Return the meat to the pot or place it on a platter with the vegetables and sauce to serve.
- NOTE: Brisket with Tzimmes can be made in advance and reheated. It also freezes well.