Mix together segments of social media and three tablespoons of sour cream. Cover with plastic wrap and set overnight. Garnish with applesauce, and serve. All together, you’ve got a thoroughly heimish, warm and comforting Internet sensation.
It’s not a technological breakthrough or cutting-edge website, but rather a genteel personification of all things grandmotherly. Meet Bubbe, who is the most surprised of all. She told Joint Media News Service that when it all began six years ago, she knew absolutely nothing about the Internet or YouTube, but couldn’t say no to her beloved grandson’s request to make a video of her doing what she does best — cooking and rhapsodizing in the kitchen.
Bubbe, who prefers her nom de plume to her name from her nondigitized life, has ever since stirred, intoned, confided and warmed her way into the hearts of untold stressed-out, complex lives around the world. In a time of ultra-fast, preprepared, grab-and-go cuisine, a throwback Jewish grandmother has risen to the top — pun intended.
In January, Bubbe’s 2011 book — “Feed Me Bubbe: Recipes and Wisdom from America’s Favorite Online Grandmother” — walked away with Joy of Kosher’s “Best New Kosher Cookbook of 2011” award.
With the help of her grandson, Avrom Honig of Brookline, Mass., Bubbe has cornered the industry with an online TV show, blogs, podcasts, and media appearances that have included a spot on “ABC World News” and inclusion in the PBS “Frontline” TV/Web documentary “Digital Nation: Life on The Virtual Frontier.” Her benevolent visage graces online T-shirts, mugs, can coolers, aluminum water bottles and travel mugs. She has a website (feedmebubbe.com), a Wikipedia entry and a Facebook page, and Avrom’s got her covered on Twitter, YouTube, WordPress and Blogspot.
“Bubbe and Avrom bring us back to the basics, the classics, our heritage,” said Jamie Geller, co-founder and CCO of Joy of Kosher, which produces a magazine and an interactive website. “Our Bubbes were probably better cooks than we are, even though they had fewer kosher ingredients at their disposal and used fewer kitchen contraptions.”
Most kosher cookbooks tend to focus on recipes that one can now make kosher, given the preponderance of products previously unavailable to kosher cooks, Geller explained. “And due to the food network generation that we live in, everybody is now a foodie and wants to try and recreate the tastes of global cuisines right in their own kitchens.”
But Bubbe offers something different.
“It’s an era of cooking that was more about heart and soul, and Bubbe with her grandson Avrom, I believe, are touching people’s hearts and souls and tummies,” Geller said.
Nominations for the first annual Best of Kosher awards, in 10 categories, were taken until Jan. 11. According to their website, the awards hope to harness the power of social media so that brands and companies can promote their products and services to fans and followers.
Bubbe said she hopes to encourage young people to continue their explorations. “We hope everyone out there gets to enjoy and benefit by our success,” agreed Avrom.
Bubbe says her husband, “Zadie,” has been very patient during the whole process. “It took a year to accomplish the book,” she said. “But I feel it’s a mitzva for young people to be able to make a traditional meal and know what it is.”
The road to success hasn’t been paved with gold or a legion of assistants for this matriarch. “Feed Me Bubbe,” the Jewish cooking show that launched in June 2006 on Internet TV software provider Instant Media, is, according to Honig, still produced by podcast on a shoestring budget, under the auspices of his own Chalutz (Hebrew for “pioneer”) Productions. Bubbe begins each episode with a recipe and a lesson on how to cook it. In between the rising steam and moving spatula, she relates anecdotes from her past and offers a “Yiddish Word of the Day” to Honig. Bubbe began addressing viewers’ questions in another portion called “Ask Bubbe.” A hit from inception, the show was nominated for the network’s first annual Vloggie Awards, in the cooking category.
Bubbe had retired at 73 from a career in banking and was busy with her organizations and activities, but she agreed to let Honig tape her making her signature “Jelly Jammies,” a recipe she had invented while working full time. “I handled municipal accounts, and I also had to put the children through college, as we were on limited means,” she recalled. “Strudel took a long time to leave out, and I didn’t have the time.” So, Bubbe developed a batter that would work quickly, and the treats proved wildly popular.
Bubbe thought one or two videos would be it, but the emails poured in. “It was 20, 30 close to 50, then hundreds,” she recalled. When some writers asked outright to be adopted, she decided to just go by “Bubbe.”
“It was kind of a feeling, and warmth and memories that they seemed to have, relating me to their own grandmothers,” she said. “Avrom and I discussed it, and I felt they could attach their own personal name to me if they wished.”
In addition to her full name, Bubbe doesn’t reveal where she grew up or currently lives, in order to maintain that ubiquitous appeal. However, Avrom has fond memories of his childhood with her.
“Growing up, she would teach the grandchildren how to make cupcakes, and help out with little tasks here and there, and it created a special bond for us,” he said.
Bubbe honed her skills while growing up in a three-family tenement among Russian immigrants. When she was 12, her mother fractured her hip. “In those days, you were in the hospital for three months, children weren’t allowed to visit, and I was the oldest,” she said, recounting a disastrous attempt by her father to make hamburgers. “He then asked a neighbor to make us a fleishig meal, which tasted so bad, I don’t know how she fed her family.”
Therefore, Bubbe learned to cook by following the instructions her mother gave to her father. “When she came home, she was still on crutches with a silver pin, which required another hospital stay to remove,” she said. “I followed through.”
Bubbe hopes her followers learn that cooking is about more than meal preparation. “When you look at a painting, you have to develop the taste and the skills to appreciate it,” she said. “I did the book because everybody can do it. You can develop your taste buds and at least be able to make a meal and feed the family, of course keeping it up to today’s nutritional standards.”
Geller stresses the content of the book — as well as the provider. “It’s super important to remember that these recipes are gems,” she said.