The kibbutz had provided our food (of sorts), but when we arrived in Haifa, we had to forage for ourselves - in earnest.
By JOSEPHINE PATTERSON
'If halla be the food of love, chew on!" Thankfully, we did just that on plenty of good fresh bread, which sustained us when Israel was in the grip of the tzenna, the austerity period of 1951.
The kibbutz had provided our food (of sorts), but when we arrived in Haifa, we had to forage for ourselves - in earnest. Helpful friends advised us to register at the local tzorchania, a mini-supermarket, where we could collect our rations and any other food in short supply when they were available. By a happy chance, the ulpan I attended was located upstairs. The curriculum offered an opportunity to learn the Hebrew names of comestibles in general and vegetables in particular. During the recess, we would rush downstairs to see if any of them were on sale.
That's how I first met hatzilim - aubergines, or eggplants - an exotic-looking, torpedo-shaped vegetable with a wonderful, dark purple, shiny skin. When I asked how best to cook them, the recipes came thick and fast. I couldn't wait to tell my husband, David, about this amazing versatile vegetable.
"There's so many ways of cooking it. It can taste like stewed apples or roast beef, or even chopped liver," I told him.
I should be so lucky. My culinary attempts met with disaster at every turn and sadly, the beautiful hatzilim had to be abandoned.
One evening at supper with friends, we had our first taste of delicious pine nuts. My newly married status made me blush with embarrassment when I discovered that they were called by their German name, penes. I resolved there and then never, ever to walk into a shop and ask for a hundred grams of them. Luckily, it wasn't long before I learned the Hebrew name, tznoberim.
Word got round of a strange but highly nutritious spread made of fried onions and yeast powder. This mixture resulted in a putty-colored mess which we used as a sandwich filling. But there was one major drawback. The cooking process gave off a powerful stench like the sweaty socks of an army of foot soldiers.
My slow progress in the ulpan was further hampered by difficulties with the masculine and feminine forms of numbers. One day when I was standing in line, I noticed that cauliflowers were on sale. Slowly, in faltering Hebrew, I asked the assistant:
"Excuse me, sir, but is it correct to say kilo ahat shel kruvit or kilo ehad?"
He glared at me like a man in torment and answered in Hebrew as poor as mine.
"Giveret, I came to Israel five minutes ago, how should I know if it's kilo ahat or kilo ehad? Don't drive me mad, do you want the cauliflower or don't you?"
That night, the cauliflower was left untouched on my plate. I ate humble pie instead.