My story begins in an unlikely place — South Porcupine, not too far from Timmins, Ontario. When my father immigrated from a stetl near Kiev in the Ukraine, he was sent to this small mining town about 500 miles north of Toronto to help build the railroad. I was born there in 1909, the first of my parents’ six children to be born in Canada.
My father soon left the railroad and established a grocery store where miners would come for their provisions. My family was one of 150 Jewish families living in the area, and our home was a popular gatheirng place. Our large white house was always full of music — my brother, Jack, was a fine violinist and Sarah, one of my two older sisters, played piano so well that she furnished the accompaniment for the silent films at the local movie house. Think of the attractions: a piano and a violin, and good voices to sing all the current songs, not to mention a table that groaned with delicious food. Those were merry times, indeed.
I was fortunate. I realize now, because my mother welcomed me into the kitchen and encouraged me to cook. I pored over the recipes in ladies’ magazines and, then, in our own kitchen. I would try to improve on them. Perhaps it was a good thing that I didn’t have enough experience to use my mother’s method of “a pinch here, a pinch there,” because ,as I learned to bake I developed an exacting technique that relies on accurate measurements.
I had many failures in the kitchen, but my mother’s gentle prodding encouraged an adventurous spirit in me. That spirit stopped at making bread, however. I never felt the compulsion to bake bread because my mother would get up before dawn on Friday mornings to bake for the Sabbath. A few hours of extra sleep on dark, cold winter mornings was enough incentive for me to develop a faster referigerator dough which, after much experimentation, measures up to my mother’s wonderful bread.
My professional experience with cooking started innocently enough. When I was married and living in Vancouver, I baked for friends’ parties, doing everything from cookies to large, fancy cakes. As demand increased beyond my circle of friends, the coffee shops became customers for my rolls. Before I knew what was happening, I was kneading dough in the kitchen, had pans of it rising in the bedrooms, and racks of buns cooling in the living room.
In desperation, my husband and I bought a bun factory. Despite my determination to get out of the house, I was terrified when I saw the big black ovens in the professional bakery. Things went completely mad. I had to hire six assistants and we were turning out 500 dozen buns a day, but the demand was for lower prices, which meant compromising quality. I just couldn’t do it. I realized that baking was a hobby for me. It belongs in my own kitchen. When we moved to Toronto, we sold the bun factory with no regrets.
By this time, I had already developed a taste for teaching. In Vancouver, I had been asked by friends to give demonstrations of various recipes for charitable organizations. I loved the idea of encouraging women, many of them young brides, to find pride in perfecting recipes they had thought would be impossible to tackle.
In Toronto, the idea of teaching resurfaced when a friend who lived in the same apartment building came to me for help with an obstinate pie dough. I quickly explained what was wrong. She remarked that it seemed so simple and suggested that I teach baking to the many other young women she knew who were also struggling in their kitchens.
I started by giving one series of lessons to friends of my neighbor’s, just to satisfy my own curiosity about teaching. After that first series of twelve lessons, I began to get phone calls from friends and relatives of the women whom I had taught. It was then that I decided to outline a course of study and organize regular classes. I would conduct the classes in my own kitchen, where everything would be handy.
At first, the classes were held on Monday nights. Soon I was teaching five or six nights a week. After five frantic years, I thought of publishing my own “baking” book to go along with the course as a textbook. In the fall of 1959, I began serious work on what was to be my first book, For the Love of Baking. I spent hours compiling, testing, and classifying recipes. If I had realized beforehand the amount of work that this project involved, I probably would never have begun it.
All the while, enrollment was increasing at the school. I made the decision to rent a place and open a complete cooking school. I knew that I would have my hands full with teaching the baking course, so my first thought was to find cooking teachers. I owe particular thanks to Lucille Lorie and her daughter, Lenore Barrett; Esther Schwartz; Temi Rosenthal; Sandra Temes; Etta Clavir; Forence Goodman and her daughter Janis; and the late Rose Mallin, who gave special demonstrations.
Esther Schwartz taught elementary cooking — simple and nourishing food, traditional foods like potato puddings and gefile fish, but with a modern touch. Lucille and Lenore taught an advanced cooking course, featuring foods and menus especially appropriate for entertaining. Their fine recipes appeared in my next books, For the Love of Cooking and For the Love of Entertaining.
Excerpted from the Author’s Introduction, Lillian Kaplun’s Kitchen