Although Amy Pollokoff’s grandmother, Bess Fedder, had Alzheimer’s disease, she was able to remember enough to pass down a family tradition.
For more than 30 years, Fedder, who died in the early 1990s, would hold an open house on the first day of Rosh Hashanah with as many as 21 different types of cakes and cookies that she would bake for her guests. Pollokoff would help her grandmother with these events from time to time. As many as 100 visitors would drop by for one of these open houses.
When Fedder developed Alzheimer’s disease in the late ’80s, holding these open houses was no longer tenable for her, Pollokoff says.
For three years, there was no Rosh Hashanah open house. One day, Pollokoff, who was in her early 30s at the time, mentioned to her husband Bob how odd it felt they were no longer taking place. He suggested that she try to restart them.
In 1990, Pollokoff began looking through her grandmother’s recipes and going to her for advice.
“While she barely knew who I was, she was able to talk to me about the recipes and how to make them and what to do,” Pollokoff says.
“It was just so special that, while in the throes of her Alzheimer’s, she was still able to tell me about the cookies,” Pollokoff continues.
After practicing the recipes over the summer, Pollokoff threw her first open house that Rosh Hashanah, featuring all of her grandmother’s recipes. Pollokoff arranged one table using her grandmother’s silver platters and punch bowl to make it look like it had in years past.
“She was able to come to the first party that I had,” Pollokoff said of her grandmother. “And again she didn’t know who I was or where she was going, but when she walked into the house and saw my table … she walked in and said, ‘That’s my table!’”
The task of preparing so many baked goods is an arduous one, and Pollokoff will typically start four weeks in advance. The first week simply involves “hunting and gathering” across four different stores to purchase everything she needs. She doubles or triples some of the more popular recipes. She estimates she normally bakes around 3,000 cookies in total for one of these events.
Until the pandemic, Pollokoff held an open house every year since her first one in 1990, with nearly 150 guests at each one.
Pollokoff grew up in Pikesville and attended Hebrew school at Chizuk Amuno Congregation. Her parents, Ellen and Joel Fedder, were her role models and were active in The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore for many years.
After attending Syracuse University, Pollokoff worked as a nurse in the oncology and neurology fields. She left nursing some 20 years ago to work in her family’s commercial real estate business. She is a lay leader at The Associated and currently the chair of the Associated Women’s Campaign. She and her husband have two daughters, Heidi Topaz, 35, and Alexa Grossman, 32.
Pollokoff made a cookbook of Fedder’s recipes that she gave out to her family members, feeling it important that she not be the only one to hold on to them.
“[She] was certainly a loving, warm part of my life,” Pollokoff says. “I think about her all the time when I’m preparing for this holiday. I just always hope that she’s happy and she knows that I’m doing it, and that this tradition … continues.”
For those who would like to try Bess Fedder’s jelly cookies themselves, Pollokoff was happy to provide the recipe. She usually triples the recipe for her Rosh Hashanah events.
Bess Fedder’s Jelly Cookies
- 6 ounces unsalted butter
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 1½ cups flour
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 1 jar strawberry jelly
- 1 jar apricot jelly
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla. Add flour and mix well.
Pinch off and make walnut-size balls and place 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Make a thumbprint impression in the center of each ball with a small melon scoop.
Fill the impression with strawberry or apricot jelly, alternating flavors.
Bake for 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
This story originally appeared in the Aug. 27, 2021, edition of the Baltimore Jewish Times, a sister publication of Baltimore Style.