Updated: May 18, 2021
Written by Allie and Marie Snyder
Some of the happiest memories of our grandparents, Lillian and Sam (Gaggy & PopPop), were born around the dinner table.
When we were little girls, we would sit in the backseat of our grandparents’ town car parked at Doumar’s Drive-in (Norfolk, Va), savoring our greasy grilled cheese sandwiches and limeades.
In the front seat, Gaggy and PopPop always sat contently, their time-worn hands clasped.
Even then, we knew they had something special. PopPop would tell us the story of when they were young, sitting in the backseat of his family’s car, holding hands just like this. That's when PopPop promised Gaggy that he was going to marry her one day.
Our grandmother Lillian Goldfarb was born in 1920 in Norfolk, VA. She was the daughter of first-generation Jewish immigrants. Her father was from Warsaw, Poland and her mother from Leeds, England.
PopPop was also the son of Jewish immigrants. His father was from Russia and his mother from Lithuania.
Gaggy’s parents had a millenary business on Church Street. PopPop’s family had a small photography business in Portsmouth.
Back in those days, Lilian would spend her free time sitting with friends at the soda fountain in the local drugstore. It was here where 21-year-old Sam, affectionately known as “Shimmy,” first met the 16-year-old Lillian. Sam would always say Lillian was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
Lillian was indeed a beauty, so lovely that she was cast in a local film, It Happened in Norfolk, the first talking picture in Virginia.
It would take Sam a year to build up the courage to ask Lilian out on a date, but when he finally did, he set in motion a timeless partnership.
Like so many pre-war love stories, theirs was a courtship of innocence that would blossom into a bond sturdy enough to endure World War II, racial and civil unrest, frustration and loss. But there would also be an adventure, prosperity, and tremendous joy.
Lillian and Sam married in 1941 and went on to have two children, first a daughter named Arlyn, and then a son, our dad, Steve.
They experimented with a wide range of offerings from pantyhose to baby chicks, until finally discovering their niche; designer wigs and the most elaborate and unique church hats around.
Gayle's Wigs N' Things
Lillian and Sam made a great team, she as the face of the business, and he as the money man behind the scenes.
Lillian and Sam Snyder in Gayle's Wigs N' Things,
their store on 100 W 21st St, Norfolk, VA
In 1975, they moved Gayle’s to the prominent corner of 21st and Granby Street. Their eye-catching storefront, playfully winking at traffic, became a beacon of Norfolk’s urban landscape.
Though the story of Gayle’s came to a close in 2019, Lillian and Sam planted an extensive garden of loving relationships through the years, a garden that was later cultivated and tended by their children and grandchildren, and these relationships keep the memory of our unique family business alive to this day.
While Lillian and Sam were savvy business people, to their five adoring grandchildren, they were simply Gaggy & PopPop. As the matriarch and patriarch of the family, they made a point to gather their children and grandchildren together every Friday to share a meal.
PopPop was the generous joker, always making his grandchildren laugh and discretely slipping them a small envelope with their name on it, a $20 bill tucked inside.
Gaggy showed her love through the warmest hugs, her sage advice, as the peacemaker of every argument through the drying of so many tears, and always as the proudest member of the audience.
Perhaps the strongest love language of all was her food. Growing up during the depression, good food was a luxury that many didn’t have. Gaggy would often tell the story of going to Berkley in South Norfolk to visit her future sister-in-law, Gertie because they were one of the few families who had ice cream.
Those closest to Gaggy remember the otherworldly aromas radiating from her kitchen in the pale yellow high-rise, looking out across the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.
To this day, we, Gaggy's granddaughters, can close our eyes and imagine ourselves as barely four-feet tall girls, standing in that warmly lit kitchen. We’ve just returned, sun-drunk, from the beach. We’re eating Gaggy’s famous tuna salad sandwiches as we try to wiggle free the sand between our toes. The smell of the ocean lingers in our hair, and the tangy sweetness of that glorious tuna salad pirouettes from taste bud to taste bud.
As grown women, we have tried many times to recreate the tuna salad, and yet it never measures up without sand between our toes and Gaggy smiling down.
Gaggy and PopPop’s kitchen was always filled with warm memories like this. Our grandmother would cast her spell over all of us with her incredible recipes, which has filled our hearts to this day.
Our entire family would agree that Gaggy’s beef brisket was her greatest recipe of all. A magical mixture of ketchup and cola worked harmoniously to create the most tender meat for the Snyder family occasions, both solemn and joyful.
Gaggy’s brisket was the faithful star of the show at all family gatherings, especially on the Jewish high holidays. Along with the traditional apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah, Gaggy’s brisket filled us with hope for a sweet new year.
It was always PopPop’s job to carve the brisket, as Gaggy gave him instructions as precise as a surgeon, always searching for that perfect angle against the grain. To this day, the taste of brisket instantly transports us back to that dinner table, surrounded by family, Gaggy and PopPop at the helm.
Lillian with her grandchildren, Allie, Marie and Jacob
Many have since tried to replicate this famous brisket without success, wondering if it was perhaps Gaggy’s hands that somehow completed the perfect recipe. Our own mother is one of the few who has ever come close. A brilliant chef in her own right, Anne was a conscientious student of Gaggy’s kitchen mantra, paying close attention to her mother-in-law’s artful hands and wise culinary words, teaching her own daughters, and even their friends, many recipes. Even her three-year-old granddaughter Vivian loves to get in the kitchen with Grandma Anne and cook.
Our mother carries on Gaggy’s legacy of food to this day, and when people lament about how tender, flavorful, magnificent, even romantic her brisket is, she always gives credit to our grandmother.
Our family shows love through food. Gaggy taught us that, and she’s there with us every time we sit down at the table, feeling her love through every bite.
We’ve asked our mother to transcribe this recipe in the hopes that Gaggy’s brisket will bring joy to many more families gathered together around the dinner table.
Anne with her granddaughter Vivian
Large first cut brisket trimmed of most of the heavy fat (leave a little layer on one side for moistness. I always get a really big brisket because everybody always wants to take some home and it freezes really well.)
Onion soup mix
And love, of course!
Take the brisket out of the refrigerator for two hours prior to roasting and let it get to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Rub brisket all over with garlic powder, onion powder, kosher salt and pepper then put fat side up uncovered in a roasting pan. I use an aluminum turkey roasting pan.
Sprinkle onion soup mix on top.
Put into a preheated 375° oven for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, take out and cover the brisket with a gravy made of two parts ketchup, two parts beef stock, and one part cola to almost cover.
Seal pan tightly with tinfoil and place it back in the oven.
Turn the oven back to 325 degrees and roast for one hour a pound minus the 30 minutes. For example: a 7-pound brisket would sear for 30 minutes and roast for 6 1/2 hours.
When done let it sit until cool enough to handle. Move from the pan with a large spatula so the meat doesn’t fall apart. Place on a cutting board and slice against the grain. I like to use a good electric knife and a tempered glass cutting board. It’s no substitute for PopPop’s carving skills but we make it work.
Serve on your prettiest platter surrounded by your favorite roasted vegetables.
Enjoy with the ones you love the most!
*If you are going to eat it the next day pour off most of the gravy and put the brisket back in the pan. Seal it again with tinfoil. The next day put it in a 350-degree oven and heat until warmed through.
*The leftover brisket also makes a great sandwich. Add some horseradish, maybe some arugula, and a brioche bun. It’s delicious!
Gaggy and PopPop’s children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren,
along with two of their many nieces and nephews.