Slabs of French Toast

It all started with the khale (braided, rich egg bread) on Friday night when we had our usual traditional shabes dinner.  Mama did the shabes blessing over the candles, and we boys took turns with the brokhes (blessings) over the khale and the wine.  Papa was always there, but he did not do the blessings.

We took turns and started at both ends of the khale with the shpits (end) and quickly worked our way to the middle—the part of the huge khale that was left over for Mama’s French toast was what we much later called the “center cut.” It never was sliced—we just tore off sections that were quite uneven.

French toast was our Sunday morning breakfast specialty.  It was never ever prepared for our Saturday meal.  That would have meant Mama would have had to prepare it on the shabes

Mama said, “The whole difference is all in the batter.  The khale was sliced into one-inch thick slabs and dipped into Mama’s thick, rich batter.  I should not say dipped, for it was permitted to soak.  The rich batter permeated into every pore of the khale, which became very limp. 

The slices were so soft that Mama had to handle them with a spatula.  Mama’s batter was made of the following ingredients: our own eggs, rich sweet cream from our Guernsey and Swiss cows, vanilla, honey from our neighbor’s beehive, and some kosher salt, probably too much. 

No one made French toast like my Mama.  Each slice was crispy on the outside and a little moist on the inside.  When you lived on a chicken farm, you ate a lot of eggs.  If you have eggs, you have cracked ones.  They were sold to bakeries for a fraction of market value.  “Leaky” ones were put in a Mason jar.  Mama always had a full jar ready to use.   

The heavy, large, black iron frying pan was brought to a high heat and Mama put in a great amount of our homemade butter, which soon caramelized into a rich brown color.  We could hear the sizzling and smell the wonderful aroma as Mama turned the slices at the right moment.  They were golden brown and never burned at the edges.  Somehow they were fried perfectly through and through.

This was not the end of the preparation.  Because our chicken farm had plenty of broken eggs that we could not sell, so there were fried eggs placed on top of the French toast.  The eggs were always perfect.  The albumen (white) was always firm and the yolk slightly soft.

The “filthy” rich people ate caviar—the roe (fish eggs) of sturgeon and specially seasoned.  The rest of us poor folks ate chicken eggs—brown and white ones.  The only things that could compare to caviar were the little yolks that were from preformed eggs.  Oh, when they were boiled, did they taste good!

We boys ate four to six eggs every day.  There were fried eggs (sunny side up), scrambled eggs (faynkokhn), hard-boiled eggs, bread pudding steeped in an egg batter and baked, and of course there was Mama’s French toast that we always had with two fried eggs on top.

Each of us Kutner boys had his favorite jam.  Fishl had the deep orange apricot, Sol loved Mama’s homemade strawberry, and Bobby, z”l, would take only Mama’s cherry jam.  Semele was too young to have a choice of jam on his French toast. 

On Sunday morning Mama always made hot cocoa during the cold wintry days and switched to cold chocolate milk in the summertime.  I remember that my usual Sunday breakfast consisted of four large slices of that mouth-watering toast, two fried eggs, and topped with that apricot jam, and two large glasses of cocoa. 

No Parisian ever had French toast like Mama’s.

Out here in, California, the people in Petaluma called it a Poultry Ranch, but for us, in New Jersey, it was just a plain old chicken farm.  Petaluma was a major poultry and egg producing area for a long time and there were many Jewish farmers here.

My taste buds have long since lost their sharpness, so has my sense of smell, and the Fairy Godmother has taken back some of the teeth.  Oh, do I miss those hearty, Sunday morning farm breakfasts with that French toast, but I miss my Mama even more.  No one has ever made French toast like my Mama did.