What is the secret ingredient that makes for a good soup and a happy family?
Just take a big slurp of Brand-New Bubbe, a brand new picture book by Sarah Aronson and Ariel Landy (Charlesbridge, 2022) to find out.
In this savory story, Jillian is happy to get a nice stepdad when her mom marries Michael. But who ever said anything about a new grandmother?
Jillian already has two: Noni and Gram. Nope, she definitely doesn’t need another one.
Yet here is this frizzy red-haired person asking to be called “Bubbe,” who just doesn’t get the hint. She smothers Jillian with “bright red kissy-lips,” makes plans for holidays Jillian’s never heard of, and is always “kvelling” (or is it “kvetching?”).
This Bubbe even has the nerve to declare her matzo ball soup the best in the universe! Jillian can’t believe her ears! Nothing can beat Noni’s meatball soup – “except maybe Gram’s spicy gazpacho.”
This definitely calls for a protest!
No matter what Bubbe does, Jillian resists: she ignores the teddy bear Bubbe gives her, refuses to shoot hoops with her, won’t eat the dinner Bubbe makes with all of Jillian’s favorite foods.
Not surprisingly, Jillian’s petulance upsets her mother, who urges her – in no uncertain terms – to give Bubbe a chance. When Jillian asserts that she’s not technically related to Bubbe, Mom reminds her that “family is more than blood.”
Jillian is determined to stand her ground, yet something interesting happens next time Bubbe comes over. She’s brought along all the ingredients for matzo ball soup and asks for Jillian’s help.
Bubbe shows Jillian how to make fluffy and soft matzo balls by using a gentle touch. She tells Jillian that she learned this from her bubbes. Oh, that broth smells so good!! And it’s definitely yummy! Now Bubbe doesn’t seem so horrible after all.
But Jillian’s a little worried. Will Noni and Gram feel left out – or even worse, think that they’ve been replaced by Bubbe?
After thinking things over (with another bowl of matzo ball soup), Jillian comes up with a great plan: A Super Soup Celebration! She invites all three grandmothers, her dad, and her mom’s grandmother, Great Mama-Nana.
After Noni, Gram, and Bubbe arrive, they get busy making their special soups. Jillian’s concerned because it’s a little chaotic at first. But very soon the kitchen smells “like a delicious trip around the world.”
What a souper feast! Whether matzo ball, meatball, or spicy gazpacho, all these soups, just like Gillian’s family, were made with love, “And there was always room for more.”
Bubbe and Jillian spring to life in Ariel Landy’s comical, emotive illustrations. Love the contrast between flamboyant, effusive Bubbe with her purple eyeglasses, shock of red hair and big hoop earrings, and stubborn, unrelenting, furrow-browed Jillian, who must somehow learn to accept this larger-than-life woman who remains undaunted by Jillian’s rejection.
Telling details reveal Jillian’s contented life playing with her cat and toys before impossible-to-ignore Bubbe arrives on the scene. Wonderful to see Jillian’s joyous transformation when she finally tastes Bubbe’s matzo ball soup. Of course, soup is magic!! 🙂
Both Noni and Gram also ooze with personality: Noni is tall and bohemian with her black beret, while Gram is short, round, amiable and cuddly. The point is, the three grandmothers couldn’t be more different in appearance and demeanor, yet they’re united in their love for Jillian and their willingness to come together as a thriving, multiethnic, interfaith family.
Landy has also added a fun visual subtext with Bubbe’s fluffy pooch trying to befriend Jillian’s cat (even they become friends by story’s end). And is that a new baby brother for Jillian?
Though there are some good picture books about step parents and blended families, few focus on adjusting to new grandmothers – and the grannies in this story dispel the stereotype of doddering gray-haired ladies (Bubbe is a basketball whiz and Gram packs Jillian on her bike).
In addition to this intergenerational element, I always appreciate a heartwarming story that shows how cooking together forges new connections. Added bonus: Aronson has included all three soup recipes to quell inevitable hunger pangs.
Speaking of which, soup’s on, so let’s eat!
🐔 Marvelous Matzo! 🥕
After reading this story, Mr Cornelius and the Alphabet Soup kitchen helpers were anxious to try Bubbe’s Matzo Ball Soup. She had called it “the best soup in the universe,” and it definitely worked its magic on Jillian.
Strange but true, I’d been curious about matzo ball soup for years and years, but had never tried it. Kept seeing pictures of it everywhere, especially during Jewish holidays when families gathered for delicious seders. I’m so glad I finally had the perfect “excuse” to make some.
For the chicken broth, Sarah mentions that every bubbe she knows adds a secret ingredient to make her broth extra special. Sarah’s secret ingredient is parsnips, which adds a touch of sweetness to nicely complement the slightly salty matzo balls.
The matzo balls themselves were fun and easy to make. I remembered Bubbe’s advice to use wet hands with a gentle touch while shaping them. They were delicious — soft and fluffy, just as she said they’d be (comfort food at its best). Although I can now make my own matzo ball soup, I’m still hoping there’s a bubbe out there who wants to adopt me. 🙂
Bubbe's World-Famous Matzo Ball Soup
- For the Broth:
- 1 whole chicken (4-5 pounds)
- 1 onion, outer skin removed
- 3-4 peeled carrots
- 3 stalks celery
- 1-2 peeled parsnips
- salt and pepper to taste
- Add the entire chicken (remove the giblets), the onion, carrots, celery, and parsnips to 2 quarts of cold water.
- Heat to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Chicken broth needs time — at least 2-3 hours.
- When the chicken starts to fall off the bone, add salt and pepper, then taste. You can simmer longer if you want to deepen the flavor. When you’re happy with the flavor, strain the broth into a separate pot. Discard the strained ingredients except for the chicken and carrots.
- Remove the chicken bones and skin and shred the remaining meat. Cut the carrots into chunks and return the shredded chicken and carrots to the pot of broth.
- Put the broth in the refrigerator to cool.
- When the broth is cool, skim the fat off the top. The broth is now ready to use!
- For the matzo balls:
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 cup matzo meal
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley or dill
- 1 teaspoon salt, plus more for cooking
- black pepper to taste
- 4 large eggs
- 1/4 cup schmaltz (rendered chicken fat), coconut oil, or vegetable oil (kosher for Passover)
- 1/4 cup chicken stock or vegetable stock
- In one bowl, combine the dry ingredients including the herbs and spices.
- In a second bowl, whisk the eggs, schmaltz, and stock.
- Gently add the dry ingredients to the wet ones with a spoon. Do not over-stir!
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 3 hours (you can refrigerate overnight if desired).
- Fill a wide, deep pot with lightly salted water and bring to a boil.
- With wet, gentle hands, take some of the matzo ball mix and mold it into the size and shape of a Ping-Pong ball. Use a light touch. Do not over-mold. Do not squeeze too tight.
- Gently drop the ball into the boiling water.
- Repeat until all the mix is used.
- Cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook about 30-40 minutes.
- To serve, heat up the chicken broth from the recipe above. Put one matzo ball in each bowl, Ladle hot broth over the top and EAT.
written by Sarah Aronson
illustrated by Ariel Landy
published by Charlesbridge, August 2022
Picture Book for ages 4-7, 32 pp.
*Includes 3 soup recipes + Helpful Resources for Step and Interfaith Families
*Interior spreads text copyright © 2022 Sarah Aronson, illustrations © 2022 Ariel Landy, published by Charlesbridge. All rights reserved.
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