Food and community at Wimbledon & District Synagogue – circa early 1980s
By Hilary Leek (as told in conversation to Liz Ison)
I was on the Ladies Guild of Wimbledon Synagogue from the 1970s, a young mother when I joined, and a bit of a ‘mascot’ of the group as most of the other women were elderly. They would tut when my baby son Ben – who I brought along to meetings – made noises during proceedings. But they were fantastic.
A cookbook, “Eat with Us”, was written over thirty years ago by members of that Guild. We have scanned a few pages for this blog – it is a beautifully produced black and white booklet of typed recipes interspersed with lively line drawings.
Unfortunately, many of the wonderful ladies of the Guild have now passed away. I contributed a recipe to the book, and so did Stella Mason – we both had young children at the time of its publication in the late 70s/early 80s. Rosamund Diamond – whose parents were members of the community, and who is the sister-in-law of Judith Ish Horowicz – did all the artwork and has kindly given us permission to reproduce the artwork here.
Looking through its pages in 2013, many of the recipes look wonderfully old fashioned. We must have thought some of them were really smart in the 1970s, but I’m not sure I’d be serving up sardine and spinach paté next Friday night. The recipe I submitted – cucumber and cream cheese mousse – is something I’d never make these days – so high in fat! Now I tend not to follow set recipes, but produce fish dishes or lamb casserole according to my own formula which turns out slightly different each time, but always good.
When my children were growing up, our Friday night meal would be chicken soup followed by roast chicken: always popular and reassuringly predictable. When my husband James put the key in the door on his way in from work, at the end of a busy week, the predictable smell that greeted him was almost as good as the meal to come.
Worple Road, where the synagogue was before we moved to Queensmere Road, was a vibrant community. It felt like one big family, with very few broiges. Many members were refugees from the war and, for them in particular, the synagogue provided the sense of family and community that they craved.
There was no care group in those days, but the Rabbi would ask various members to make visits or cook meals for members of the community in need. I remember that as soon as I joined the synagogue, the Rabbi asked me to visit an elderly person with dementia, and I visited her regularly with a friend.
It was always crowded for all the festival services, with standing room only. Simchat Torah was great fun, very lively and well attended. We would organise a Hanukkah Party for the whole community, and we would have 150 people along for whom we provided food, and a tombola and other fundraising activities. First night Seder was a very big event of the year, with 150 people attending, young and old. One of the members who was a caterer catered for it at cut price, and I remember making up seder plates and mountains of haroset, in addition to what I needed to make for my own family Seder.
Kiddushim were organised by the administrator and two amazing waitresses, Dot and Vi, as well as Eileen on occasions. For a special Kiddush, the family or person hosting it would do all the shopping themselves, buying everything right down to the doilies, and then the team would arrive early, to get buttering the bridge rolls and to put out the fish balls. Dot and Vi were such characters and knew everything there was to know about the happenings and gossip at the synagogue.
There were various clubs, committees and groups held at the synagogue. The remarkable Friendship Club was held fortnightly for elderly people. Betty Lee and her husband ran the group for 18 years. Together with their helpers, they provided the attendees with a meal – which was bought and cooked at Worple Road – followed by some form of entertainment.
Every committee or group had their own cupboard in the kitchen – which they kept locked – with their own supply of tea, coffee and biscuits. When I arranged the move to Queensmere Road, I had enormous difficulty trying to acquire the keys of these cupboards to get them emptied.
Sigi was Chairman of the Ladies Guild for many years. She had an awful time during the war and spent time in a concentration camp. When the war ended a young man named Sid Quick was one of the British soldiers (non-Jewish) who liberated the camp and found Sigi. They were later to marry though never had children. Sigi died many years ago and Sid – who continued to be a loyal friend of the synagogue – died recently.
To show what I’m cooking these days, I’ve provided for the Wimshul Cooks blog two delicious recipes, one for mushroom and puy lentil soup, and the other a chocolate torte for Passover, but worth eating the rest of the year too.
Mushroom and Puy Lentil Soup
- 1 onion chopped
- A few springs of fresh thyme
- 2 cloves of garlic chopped
- 150g puy lentils
- 2L vegetable or chicken stock
- 140g mushroom selection
- 250g closed chestnut mushrooms
Put onions, thyme, garlic and lentils in a large pan. Pour in all of the stock, cover and bring to the boil. Then simmer for about 20 minutes until the lentils are tender.
Roughly chop the mushrooms and add to the simmering pan. Simmer for a further 5 minutes.
Remove the thyme sprigs and puree and soup until smooth-ish. Check the consistency. If you would like it a little runner add a little more boiling water to the mix.
- 200g dark chocolate
- 4 medium eggs
- 170g caster sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 250g ground almonds
- 200g margarine or butter melted and cooled
- Icing sugar for decoration
Pre-heat oven to 170 degrees. Line a 24cm baking tin with non-stick baking parchment. Process the chocolate in a food processor until it is reduced to small pieces. Beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla until thick and creamy for about 10 minutes. Fold in the chocolate, almonds and butter.
Spoon into the prepared tin, bake for 45 – 50 minutes until just firm to the touch. Leave to cool in the tin then turn out onto to a plate. Dust with icing sugar and serve with a little crème fraiche or cream and berries.