It’s probably pretty safe to say that you can never really know what will come of utilizing our friend the Internets to air your rambling thoughts, express your heated opinions, share your latest million-dollar idea, or perhaps just talk about something you ate long ago, something you know you’ll never taste again in this lifetime.
Quite some time ago, Clotilde tagged me for a meme on childhood food memories. Among several different food memories, I wrote about being haunted by the memory of a flavor -- that of some little cakes called Lisettes (scroll down to number 4), made by a family friend when I was a child. I was quite sure that the recipe for these had been lost forever, and that they were not baked at all by anyone, anywhere on the planet.
I was wrong.
A few weeks ago, on my birthday in fact, I received the following email directed to the addy that I use for this site:
My daughter, who now lives in Beijing, just baked a sheet of Lisettes. Just for fun, she Googled "Lisettes" and came up with your August 2005 web blog entry. She, my brother and I were all astounded to see it:
We are all very curious as to WHO you are. Presumably some long lost family friend.
As for the recipe, Liesel sadly died very suddenly in 1980 without passing on the recipe to either of her sons. But several years later, I managed to piece together the recipe by writing to a number of people who had baked the cookies with her over the years. And I have been baking them ever since -- albeit only once a year. And although we don't share the recipe with others (!), both my brother (and his wife) and my wife and I now all have the recipe. As does our daughter. So, your predictions on daughters-in-law didn't pan out.
Please write and let us know who you are. One of us will then bake a special batch up -- just for you.
(name protected for anonymity, mainly so that you don’t try to contact this person when you become wild with the desire to try Lisettes for yourself)
The email contained a luscious photo of row upon row of Lisettes, obviously freshly baked and just glazed. I replied posthaste:
Today is my birthday, and hearing from you is a lovely gift. I'm Julie ________. My parents were _____ and _____, owner-proprietors of the shop ____________, in (the town of our childhood). Liesel and her husband were close family friends, and Liesel worked in my parents' store along with other friends of their social circle. She was a treasured member of the staff for many years. I remember going to your house for Rosh Hashanah parties, and Liesel was always at our home for the many parties my parents had. I was so inordinately fond of Lisettes as a child that I have long despaired of ever tasting them again, or being able to re-create the recipe for myself. I often buy Elisen Lebkuchen at Christmas time, but it just isn't the same. The beautiful picture of the Lisettes evokes a craving in me!
Thanks for contacting me -- and I'd be more than happy to have a batch of Lisettes! I live in New York City with my fiancé (I'm going to be married in April), and my brother lives in Manhattan too -- he and his wife are about to have twins. Although my mother passed away some years ago, my father still lives in Yonkers and we see him often -- he always love to hear when we've had contact with old family friends.
Long story short, it turned out that my new/old friend and his wife live only twenty blocks from G and myself. After another flurry of emails, exchanges of memories, and trying to coordinate times, my friend contacted me again, saying that he and his wife had baked me a batch of Lisettes, and that they (the Lisettes) were waiting for me, snug in their tin, to come downtown and pick them up.
Words fail me in trying to describe the delight of meeting these completely charming people. I had never really known them – I was a child when they married (they had their wedding registry in my parents’ shop, and still had many items in their home from that time). We talked of various family members, what they were and are doing. Of course food was a big topic, since cooking and baking and eating well are threads of connection for both of our families. They told me about their daughter, a journalist in Beijing, who has persuaded local people to begin growing vegetables organically. We spoke of our deeply missed mothers, and how cooking their signature dishes brings them back to us. And they told me the story of how they resurrected the recipe for Lisettes, as we sat down to cups of tea and a plate of the little cakes.
Even more do words fail me when I try to describe what it was like to taste this sweet of my childhood after many, many years. I was a tiny bit teary, thinking of childhood and holidays – the Christmas Eve party in my parents’ shop, when we would close early and my father would break out a case of champagne. All the employees would bring in special treats to share. It was kind of an alumni night, too – employees from years past would always show up on Christmas Eve, such was their devotion to my parents. I remember Halina’s mother’s inimitable, melting Polish butter cookies, and Skeeter’s cognac-laced paté. There were always delectable cheeses and spreads, as well as sweet treats. And to my particular delight, there was always a big plate of Lisettes.
As memories flooded my mind, so too were my tastebuds flooded with the particular flavor of ground hazelnuts and candied fruit, spiced to perfection and glazed with just enough chocolate-confectioners' sugar glaze. I thought about the miracle that had just occurred, and how we now live in a world where, for better or worse, we can actually recover those people and even those experiences that may, once, have seemed truly lost to us.
There will be no recipe for Lisettes published here, now or ever. No matter how much I coveted being able to make these fabulous little cakes for myself, I would never even have asked, since it was clear to me that the recipe is a guarded family treasure. However, without saying a word, my friends told me that they’d already had a family council, and that I would, eventually, be vouchsafed the recipe – on the condition, of course, that I keep the secret. Deeply honored that they would want to share this with me, I promised. And we made a date for next holiday season – to make Lisettes together – a day when we will all doubtless eat too many treats, and talk of life, love, family, food and connection, and our mothers’ legacies to us.