Babcia's Blueberry Cake
Updated: Jun 4, 2020
By Susan Feit
A family photograph from Jordanow
From Left to Right:
front row: my father Michael Feit, Ernestyna Feit, his sister Zofia 'Zocia' Feit Hochberg
back row: my grandfather Henryk Feit, Ludwik Taube (my father's uncle), Anna Taube Feit (my maternal grandmother), a family friend, Nathan Feit, Lonig Feit
I never met Ernestyna Eiseen Feit, my father's babcia (grandmother in Polish). She died long before I was born. She is one of many relatives I only heard more about lately, once I started interviewing my father about his life. I was not lucky enough to grow up around my relatives. Many were killed at the hands of the Nazis and their allies. Those who did survive fled to different corners of the earth for refuge.
My parents are both Holocaust survivors. They did not speak about their past when I was growing up. My parents preferred to focus on today and the promise of tomorrow. It was their strategy for building a safe and successful life for themselves and their family.
Only as an adult did I start to see my father’s relatives who had settled in Europe and Israel after the war more regularly. I remember sitting in my Aunt Zocia's dimly-lit Parisian apartment looking at old family photos and hearing for the first time about the joyous summer vacations she and my father would spend at her babcia's house in Jordanow when they were children.
Michael and Irene Feit: Wedding Day
March 17, 1956
My father Michael Feit as a baby, being held by his mother Anna Taube Feit. His sister Zofia 'Zocia' Feit Hochberg is the young girl standing in the doorway from behind.
Prior to hearing these stories, I did not really consider the past. It was too painful to consider my family’s experiences during the Holocaust, so it was easy not to look at their earlier lives. I never thought about the full, rich lives they had led before the war. I was not aware of the price I had paid for my voluntary historical amnesia. I had lost my ties to my family history and my own heritage. I was even unaware of the very existence of some of my great-aunts and great-uncles and utterly devoid of knowledge of anything about my great-grandparents, including my father’s babcia.
"Look at all we have lost," I told my aunt with a bittersweet smile. I knew then that I wanted to document the happy memories of my own family. I wanted to make my relatives come alive.
I spent several years recording my father’s memories, digging through documents, archives, and
family photos to piece together our family history. Along the way, I discovered new relatives and how others were killed during the Holocaust. I presented my father with a book telling his life story on his 90th birthday.
“You know more about my life than I do, now,” my father often quips with a twinkle in his eye. He might be right. It continues to be a project that brings us closer together and closer to our past.
Michael and Irene Feit, September 2019 My father holds a traditional sipping cup from Truskavets, Ukraine. Both Michael and Irene’s fathers worked in Truskavets in the summers during the early 1930’s.
I continue to investigate my family history, questioning my father about what he wore, what he played with, and of course what he ate. What follows is one of my father’s fondest memories of his beloved babcia, Ernestyna Feit, may her memory be blessed.
Ernestyna was born around 1870 in the Galicia region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She was deported from Poland to Siberia during the Holocaust. From there, she traveled to Turkey by rail, eventually making her way to Palestine in 1942. She died in 1949 in Israel.
One of the only things I know about her is that she made a delicious blueberry cake. After nearly 90 years, my father still speaks tenderly about the scrumptious, crumbly dessert that his babcia lovingly prepared. I can see his sweet memories in his eyes and his salivating mouth whenever he remembers the taste of the cake.
Like many other Jews living in Eastern Europe before World War II, Ernestyna ran an inn in Eastern Europe. She lived in Jordanow, a small mountain town in southwest Poland. Every year, as soon as school let out, my father packed up a summer’s worth of belongings and together with his mother and sister and rode the long train to Jordanow. The three of them spent the summer in the cool mountain air, surrounded by my grandfather’s family. My grandfather had to stay at home to work, visiting whenever he could squeeze in time for a vacation.
My father loved spending summers at his babcia’s house. He did not mind that her inn had no electricity or running water. He just loved the freedom he had at her house. My father spent long days outside in babcia’s big backyard, full of plants and animals. Big succulent blueberry bushes flanked both sides of her vegetable garden. A few horses lived in the back of the yard. One day, my father -- a mischievous playful boy, decided to give Lucky, his favorite horse, a carrot he had picked from the garden. That turned out to be a big mistake. Lucky almost bit off his fingers! “I still remember the day one of the horses chomped my fingers. It hurt so much that I ran crying to my babcia. She hugged me tightly and gave me a big piece of her delicious blueberry cake to calm me down. "I still remember what a good cake it was,” my father told me dreamily when I visited last.
Hearing about babcia’s blueberry cake for the umpteenth time, I finally decided to add Polish blueberry cake to my own baking repertoire. I found the recipe for Easy Polish Blueberry Cake on The HollyTrail’s. The recipe is my way to honor my family’s past – a small tribute to my father’s childhood and to Ernestyna Feit, a kind woman I will never know.
Easy Polish Blueberry Cake [Ciasto jagodowe z kruszonką]
3 cups fresh blueberries (about one pound or 1 1/3 pints)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup granulated sugar
zest of half a lemon (optional)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
confectioner's sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 x 2 inch pan. Wash blueberries and spread out onto paper towels and pat dry.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and lemon zest (if using) in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, fork blend egg, vanilla, and milk.
In a large bowl, by hand or using an electric mixer, beat butter for a few seconds. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and 1/2 of the milk mixture. Mix for a few seconds to moisten the flour. Repeat with remaining flour and milk mixtures and mix until smooth (about 10 seconds with electric standing mixer). Spread batter into prepared pan in an even layer using an offset spatula. Evenly distribute blueberries on top of batter.
In a small bowl, mix brown sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Using your fingers, work butter and vanilla into the dry ingredients until crumbs form. Evenly sprinkle crumbs over the blueberry layer. [If topping is sticky instead of crumbly, drop pieces of topping to cover most of the blueberry layer.]
Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs. Remove from oven and place on a rack to cool for at least 2 hours or overnight. Serve at room temperature. Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.