Monday, 24 February 2020

My Norene Gilletz Story

A very quick story.

I was saddened to learn this morning of the passing of Norene Gilletz. While I wasn't a friend or even one of her many acolytes, it was impossible to be a Jewish cook of a certain age in Canada without knowing of Norene. Her cookbooks are standards in the kitchen libraries of Canadian Jews. Every Jewish bride of my generation was probably gifted at least one of them as a shower or wedding gift. Second Helpings is simply a classic (my copy is lovingly stained with so many spilled ingredients) and The Pleasures of My Processor is a how-to manual for any standard Jewish recipe you can possibly imagine. In an age when so much of our recipe hunting is done online, Norene's books have stood the test of time.

I do, however, have a quick up close and personal encounter with Norene I'd like to share. The Jewish community in Toronto, while the largest in Canada, is still rather small. It is impossible not to find somebody who doesn't know somebody else. Common acquaintance is an everyday occurrence. Years ago, I was making a shiva call at a friend's home. It turns out that Norene was mother-in-law to one of my friend's siblings and we were at the home at the same time. I had brought some cookies for the visit because that's what we Jews do, we feed the mourners. My friends will know which cookies I brought. I seem to have a devoted little following who clamour for these chocolate chunk specialties from a recipe that my mom developed. The house was busy that day and while I knew Norene by reputation, I had no idea who she was or that she had a connection to my friend. I was chatting with some people when this lovely woman about my mother's age approached me. She said that she was told by some folks in the kitchen that I had made these cookies and she wondered if I might like to share the recipe. I told her that they were my mom's recipe but that she shared it all the time and I would be happy to give it to her. She positively gushed over the things. She told me that they were delicious and that she wanted to serve them for a family gathering later that week. I told her to give me her email address and I would happily forward it.

It wasn't until she handed me a small slip of paper with her name and email on it that I even had an inkling of who she was. I stared at it and asked, "Are you that Norene Gilletz?" She smiled and asked, "Have you heard of me?" I laughed and asked her if there was a Canadian Jewish cook who hadn't. She was warm, lovely, kind and...she liked my cookies! I was flabbergasted.

It was the only time I ever met Norene in person but her recipes have kept me company for decades. There is something to be said about the power of cooking and the effect it has on families and memories. Norene Gilletz brought an entire community together with hers. She was a legend in our small corner of the world and will be missed.

Zichrona Livracha. May her memory forever be a blessing.

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