Small towns in Texas aren’t usually known for their vibrant Jewish life, but the parents of Marilyn and Michael Glosserman made sure their children developed strong cultural identities. And food was a key part of those Jewish and family connections.
Marilyn is from Texarkana in the northeast corner of the state where about 40 Jewish families formed Mt. Sinai Congregation in the 1950s, the community’s center for social life and more. When it came time for holidays, she remembers, the women would get together and put in a big order for food such as Passover products from the nearest largest city, Dallas. The temple’s sisterhood would prepare all the food for the congregational Seder every year.
Her parents, Betty and Morde (Mordecai) Glick, made special efforts like private tutoring so that Marilyn could be the first bat mitzvah in the congregation. She points out that if you wanted to have an active Jewish community in a small town, everyone had to take part, and all the parents shared in teaching Sunday school.
Michael’s parents, Elsia and Sam Glosserman, also worked to nurture their children’s Jewish ties living in Lockhart, the central Texas town famous for its barbecue. There was no synagogue, so Michael’s father and uncles took turns driving him, his four sisters and cousins to Austin, a half-hour trip each way, to attend Sunday school. The importance of a Jewish education was instilled by both sets of their parents.
For the Glosserman family, the High Holidays were spent 90 minutes away with relatives in San Antonio, but Passover was spent at home with Michael’s parents hosting Seders that seemed to grow larger every year. The table was always set with the blue and white Meissen china, and Michael’s mother and aunts prepared the traditional foods.
Food and Families
When Marilyn and Michael met at the University of Texas, they found they had more in common than just coming from small towns. “My husband and I both grew up with large extended families where everything centered around holidays, food, family and the family businesses.”
Marilyn’s mother, Betty, made traditional dishes like matzah ball soup, borscht and stuffed cabbage, but her specialty was baking—pies, cakes, cookies and a lot of them! Lemon meringue, pecan and double-crusted apple pies. Nine-egg sponge cake, coffee cake, date nut loaf and apple cake. Russian Rocks, chocolate nut cookies, strudel cookies, mandelbread and more…
Pecan is the state tree of Texas, and there was a huge one in the family’s backyard. They would often gather, crack and shell the large paper shell pecans that Betty ground and incorporated in nearly everything she made.
Grandma Betty’s distribution of baked goods went far beyond Texas! She would ship tins of treats to relatives all over the US, including sending pies for Thanksgiving to Bethesda where Marilyn and Michael were raising their two sons, Marc and Scott. And before she went visiting, Grandma Betty packed tins of her frozen goodies that were ready to be enjoyed upon her arrival.
Elsia (Mama Els to her grandchildren), on the other hand, was known for dishes like her fried chicken, sweet noodles and chili. And, there was always plenty of barbecue and homemade Mexican food—regional favorites. Still today, Marc remembers,“like a childhood dream,” requesting that his mother make his ideal birthday meal: Mama Els’ skinless fried chicken crusted in crumbled saltines, crinkle-cut French-fried potatoes or mac and cheese and, waiting in the freezer to be thawed and heated, Grandma Betty’s apple pie! For Marilyn, indulging Michael and her growing boys, who loved to hang around in the kitchen, was a true pleasure inspired by her mother and mother-in-law.
The Next Generations
His grandparents loom large for Marc. He saw his grandfathers (and father) as “guys who owned businesses, self-made men, entrepreneurs.” Observing them over the years, Marc knew from a young age that he wanted to be in business for himself. As for starting a business dedicated to food, Marc says the special experiences of his family and grandparents preparing food and eating together always stayed with him, leading him to become “a foodie in my own way, always looking for great food experiences.”
Putting all of this together with numerous family visits to Texas over the years, Marc founded Hill Country Hospitality in 2007. The company’s award-winning restaurants in New York City and Brooklyn and Washington, DC’s own Hill Country Barbecue are “an ode to Central Texas barbecue and a love letter to my Texas family roots,” explains Marc. He hopes people get a great meal, but also that the restaurants become places where people build social connections, whether it is a family out for a meal together, a first date or 25th date or even a business meeting over food.
His grandmothers were the inspiration for Hill Country Chicken in particular, where Mama Els’ fried chicken and Grandma Betty’s pies are made fresh every day and served in a restaurant that feels like a warm 1950s kitchen. And in the spirit of Grandma Betty’s sweet shipments over the years, Hill Country Pie Kitchen, “home of the original pie cup,” makes individual pies servings fresh each day and ships orders all over the world.
Marc is committed to passing on Jewish identity and the love of Jewish food to his four kids, aged 2 to 7 years old. “Our kids already have a sense of Jewish food. My wife Kristen makes the sweet noodle kugel,” he says, “and they know matzah balls, brisket, matzah brei and more.”
As Marilyn adds, “Our parents were the most incredible role models in so many ways. My children have that same feeling. They’ve started their own traditions in their families, which are really a mixture of different traditions.”
As for those Texas roots? “I think we represent the typical Southern Jewish family that has evolved,” Marilyn says. She points out that there is a rich Southern Jewish culture that has its roots in Eastern Europe as well as the south.
Marilyn concludes, “When I’m in the kitchen at Rosh Hashanah or other Jewish holidays, I think a lot about my own memories of my mother, grandmothers, aunts and Jewish women all over the world in their kitchens doing the same things…The one experience we all share is food. In all cultures, on special occasions and holidays, everyone gets together to eat, drink and celebrate. Food is that connection, something special and memorable.”