Food From the Ones We Love

An Interview with Myra Josephson by Lucy Karp about matzo ball soup with extra matzo balls. 

When you make a cookie that you really love, don’t you love making it because you know how good it’s going to taste when it comes out of the oven?

My grandma’s matzo ball soup is like that. Soft carrots and celery that melts on my tongue, meeting the sweet chew of matzo ball in my mouth. I always ask for extra matzo balls. One time I tried to make them myself, and they turned out really bad. 

Q: Tell me about your connection to matzo ball soup.

A: I’ve always had a Jewish identity. I went to Sunday school when I was young. In those days girls really didn’t have Bat Mitzvahs, so I didn’t have that, but I’ve always felt really Jewish. There are certain foods like matzah ball soup which I love that are very much a part of my religion. 

Q: What was your first memory of matzo ball soup? 

A: When I was young a lot of times I would go to my fathers mothers house in Brooklyn. For many years we didn’t have a car so we took public transportation to get there. We lived in Queens, they were in Brooklyn, and it took a long time to get there. I don’t really remember everything we had to eat there, but I remember there was always matzah ball soup. 

Q: Where did you learn to make matzo ball soup?

A: Well, I think I learned myself from cookbooks originally. I studied recipes. My mother wasn’t a cook. I don’t think I learned anything from her. My friend, Channna Feuer, from Israel who was living here (NYC) at the time, told me how she made matzah ball soup and she had some interesting additions that I never had. Basically I think people would take pieces of chicken with water and carrots and onions celery and would make a chicken stock out of that. That was the chicken soup really, and then they would add the matzo ball, but Channa also added sweet potato, leeks, and cauliflower, and I think she would add a white turnip also. They each had distinctive flavors and that makes the soup much better. So from then on, I made it that way and when I gave your mom that recipe, I gave her that one. I liked it. 

Q: Why is matzo ball soup significant to you?

A: Because it’s so delicious and because it’s tradition. Also because everybody in the family loves it or likes it alot. Chicken soup supposedly has medicinal effects, it’s very good to help get rid of a cold. More than brisket and roast chicken, which are also traditional Jewish foods, matzah ball soup is even more so. It’s the one soup Jewish people have and can connect to. 

Q: What is your favorite part about making matzo ball soup?

A: It is a nice tradition, it’s sort of a pain to make because there’s so much you have to cut up to make the soup. Sometimes I also use a chicken broth powder that you put in. That’s cheating a little, but it makes it richer.