August 27-2, 2014

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Lillian Schwartz Abrams' Tuna Paté

When her great-granddaughter cajoled 96-year-old Lillian Schwartz Abrams to  let her videotape the making of tuna paté for posterity, it was a momentous occasion. But even then, there was room for variation in this recipe that had never before been written down - much less recorded. The chili sauce, she explained, is a newfangled substitute for a homemade blend of tomatoes and horseradish; and, while instant minced onions are all right, they are not quite the same. 

1 (8-ounce) package of cream cheese – any brand, softened
2 cans solid white tuna in water, drained
2 tablespoons chili sauce
5 tablespoons minced onion (instant is fine)
¼ cup chopped parsley (do NOT use fresh)
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Dash of Tabasco

Green olives, sliced
Dash of paprika

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Tuna Paté won everyone's approval

Four generations gathered on a long-ago morning at my then 96-year-old mother’s city apartment, crowding into her tiny kitchen. My sister and I; my three adult daughters; and one 12-year-old granddaughter had come for a momentous occasion. We were going to formalize the recipe for mom’s famous, legendary, delectable Tuna Paté. 

Until then, that recipe had never been reduced to writing. It had been handed down through the generations, like a prized piece of porcelain, a treasure from the hands of a lady who was a fabled cook.

“I can’t tell you exactly how I do it,” Mom had protested for years. “I just do it by feel.”

But now Hannah, my thoroughly modern grandchild, had challenged her great-grandmother to make her famous paté so she could memorialize the process with a video camera. 

It all made perfect sense, of course. This was the 21st century. But there was still something vaguely sad about relinquishing a simpler, far less precise and more homespun way of cooking. I could see it in my mother’s face that day, and I was reminded that progress often comes at a cost. 

But in a clan that deals with so many eating patterns and preferences – the vegetarians, the diet-conscious, the meat and potato lovers, and the sweet-toothed, finding a single dish that everyone loves has always been a monumental challenge. And Tuna Paté was a unanimous pick.

Gamely, my mother had warmed up the way a symphony conductor might. She'd reached for her very special mixing bowl. She'd searched for the scraper she'd be using in this demonstration “class.”

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