The Board and the Ritual of Baking

The day Dina taught me to make rugelach, she started with The Board. It was just a piece of plywood which her brother, the only other sibling to survive the Holocaust, had cut down to about 2 x 3 feet. But in my eyes because of the way that she treated it, it was the magical foundation of her baking. No rugelach was made without that board. It was heavy and she had asked someone else to bring it out to the kitchen before I got there. It was leaning up against the wall (pictured below) and she asked me to lift it to the table. She stopped me midway to show me the fading markings that told which side was for dairy and which for meat, in Yiddish: Milchig and Fleishig. The Board was religious not just because of that but because it was brought out as in a ritual.

The Board is so much more than a practical piece of 3/4 inch plywood. When Dina died, Sarah and Connie asked if there was anything from the house I would like and I hesitantly asked for The Board. They consulted and The Board came home with me.

I am not Jewish so my kitchen is not kosher. But I treat that corner of my house as though it is kosher. It wouldn’t pass any litmus test but it is the idea that counts. Meat, kosher or not, does not touch the milchig side and vice versa. One day I almost set a package of wrapped meat on the board and realized just in time and pulled my hand away. It got my heart thumping!

Everything about the precision with which she took each step through the recipe reminded me of The Karate Kid. “Wipe on, wipe off.” The Kid had to learn certain things before he could make the next steps. I needed to know the ritual of The Board before I could start to learn the recipe.

I wonder if others have certain rituals with which they approach their baking. If you have stories to share, please add them to the comments!

You can see The Board in the background in Dina’s kitchen.
This is one of few family photos Dina had from before the Holocaust. It was taken before she was born so she is not pictured. All family members pictured except Dina’s brother (tallest boy in front of father) were killed.
The Board in its new home in Vermont. I built the cabinets myself so that I could incorporate it into the whole scheme. The Board can be removed and taken to a table for big projects.