My husband’s grandmother, Baba Billie Goldberg of blessed memory, was a legendary cook. She loved to stuff her family members with her old-school culinary delights: kugels, cholent, schnitzel, egg salad, sweetbreads, and angel food cake were just a few of her favorite dishes to make. When her many, many grandchildren would come to visit for Shabbat, an entire plate of schnitzel would be left on the counter for snacking, even before dinner started.
Ever since meeting my husband 10-plus years ago, I have been hearing the stories of Baba’s cooking and her legendary, though not often made, apricot tongue. My father-in-law and his siblings loved it, my husband would never try it.
My own family also loves tongue: My grandma Phoebe made it for my dad and uncle when they were growing up, and it’s my dad’s favorite sandwich at a deli. It’s far from just our families, though. Jews have a long history of eating cow tongue, which was always considered a lesser cut of meat. Because it was considered less desirable, it was, therefore, more affordable.
Baba Billie’s recipes were never written down with precision, mostly they were passed down verbally. So when I decided it would be a fun project to cook a tongue and try to re-create her recipe, I had to follow a zig-zagging path to try to replicate it. We happen to have a copy of the sisterhood cookbook from her synagogue in Oceanside, New York, and so that was my first stop to research the recipe. Unfortunately, there were three different sweet tongue recipes listed (see, told you Jews love tongue), none of which sounded exactly how my in-laws’ described the dish. So then I called my mother-in-law, who then called her sister-in-law, and that’s how I eventually put all the pieces together for this recipe: my own apricot tongue sleuthing.
Tongue in a sweet sauce like Baba Billie’s recipe is just one popular way to prepare the piece of meat. Tongue is also often pickled, like corned beef, cooked and sliced thin for serving on rye bread.
Cooking the whole tongue is quite an endeavor, because it looks like a big old honking tongue, taste buds and all. I did my best and I hope I honored Baba Billie’s memory through trying to recreate her beloved dish. Watch our video below and enjoy.