Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 23, 2019

Just Add Love (2019), by Irris Makler

Yesterday when I was at the Jewish Museum for the launch of Rosa, Memories with Licence my eye fell upon another book, one I’d heard about on Radio National. Philip Adams interviewed Irris Makler about her cookbook Just Add love, Holocaust Survivors Share Their Stories and Recipes, so I knew it was a book I wanted to buy.   For the simple reason that I hoped that there’d be a recipe for Mrs Kuperholz’s cheesecake.

(Mrs Kuperholz was my neighbour when I was a teenager in Caulfield.  She made a cheesecake like no other.  I’ve been chasing a recipe for it ever since I started cooking).

This is the blurb:

When a child cooks with their grandmother they learn much more than a recipe – they absorb culture and family history, and start to discover their place in the world.

This book contains the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, their extraordinary stories – and also their recipes – captured while they cook traditional meals with their grandchildren.

Just Add Love is a work of history and photography, a cookbook and a testament to the last generation of survivors in Australia, as they transmit history, culture, sustenance and love through the powerful ritual of food. This unique and moving combination of stories and recipes will touch your heart and inspire you to cook for the people you love, and to gather around the table together. Like grandma encouraged you to.

It is the most beautiful book, and a cookbook like no other.  There is a recipe for Baked Cheesecake (and the photograph looks very enticing, the way Mrs Kuperholz’s cheesecake always looked) but it’s the story that comes with it that makes it so special.

Once Saba Feniger was given her life back, she grabbed it with both hands.  In Australia, she learned to cook, and cheesecake is one of her specialties.  It’s a family legacy.  Her eldest sister, Hela, had baked delicious cheesecakes back in Lodz, but Saba didn’t have a recipe.  Just the memory of a taste.

In Melbourne, Saba tried recipes from friends, and also from Kemp’s Jewish deli in Kew, famed for its cheesecake.  Saba’s recipe is in the book of family recipes she gave to her granddaughter on her wedding.  ‘And now, every time her father-in-law tastes a cheesecake, he says, ‘It’s not as good as Saba’s!’ she reports with satisfaction. (p.276)

Saba’s story is astonishing. Like all the photos of the grandmothers —and the two grandfathers—in this remarkable book, this portrait of a Holocaust survivor shows us a person not just surviving, but thriving, surrounded by a loving family and enjoying life.  On the pages that follow there are small B&W photos of Sara and her sisters before the war, and from the Holocaust experience. There is also a pair of photos that take up a whole page: a joyful photo of Saba and her husband Sol in Melbourne with their small daughters; and one of her 1995 reunion with Major Ted Ruston, her ‘saviour’ who led the British forces liberating the Neustadt Camp.  His decisive actions in managing the filth and disease saved the lives of many who had been prisoners there.

Saba passed away aged 92 in May, but you can read her inspiring story at Irris Maker’s blog, Just Add Love, where you can also find Saba’s recipe for honey cake.

There are some wonderful recipes, and surprisingly, there are some that are vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free, because these grandparents have adapted their recipes to take account of the more modern tastes of their children and grandchildren.  So while there is Thea Riesel’s decadent recipe for potato latkes that add to the waistline just by looking at them, there’s also Eva Grinsten’s enticing recipe for Wedding Chicken with Almonds and Rita Ross’s Roast Duck with Hoisin Sauce.  There’s Rina Mevorach’s Vegetarian Mafrum (potato and eggplant stuffed with tofu instead of meat and served with a sauce of tomatoes and vegetables); and there are Vegan Cabbage Rolls. The cakes and desserts are to die for: Elisabeth Weisz Prega’s Cheese and Cherry Strudel; a dark honey cake served at Jewish New Year from Irris Makler’s own grandmother Lea; a gluten-free Chocolate, Walnut and Sour Cherry Cake from Eva Grinsten (whose mother’s recipe book she was miraculously able to retrieve from the cellar of her family home after the war); and Marysia Segan’s dairy-free Day and Night Cake with pomegranate seeds —which is the one I’m going to try first.

What these indomitable women show us, is that you can literally lose everything: your entire family and every possession you ever cherished can be taken away in the most grotesque atrocity in history, and you can have memories that seem impossible to bear … and yet it is possible to build a new life, and find joy in the simple things like cooking for family gatherings.  There are many refugees in Melbourne who have also had terrible experiences, and perhaps a book like this is more than a collection of stories and recipes but also a message of hope.

There are a couple of gorgeous photos from the book in this review at SBS.  The photography is by David Mane.

Do listen to the interview at Radio National, the link is in the first paragraph, and find out more about the project and its creators at the Just Add Love blog.


Author: Irris Makler
Title: Just Add Love, Holocaust Survivors Share Their Stories and Recipes
Publisher: Nero Books (an imprint of Black Inc), 2019, 350 pages
ISBN: 9781760641382
Source: Personal library, purchased from the Jewish Museum

Available from Black Inc and all good bookshops.



  1. Heartwarming post, Lisa. I’m just back from a holiday in Norway, so haven’t been visiting blogs much, so will hope to get back into the swing of it now. This post reminds me of the cookbook I bought not so long ago with recipes from Syrian refugees – Syria, Recipes from Home. It too reminds us that cooking and eating together is part of the social/human cement that holds groups of people together, whether they’re families, friends, neighbours or whatever.


    • Welcome home, Simon. I’ve been enjoying your posts from Norway:)
      Well, you know they say that some people live to eat and others eat to live, but I think there’s much more to it than that. When we cook with love, it’s a beautiful gift that we can give every day.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This book is on my list now. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’ll love it:)


  3. It’s a beautiful book. Thanks for reminding me that I must get a copy.


    • Best be quick, Diana, the Black Inc site says they’re out of stock. Try Avenue Books in Glenhuntly Rd?


  4. […] Just Add Love, by Irris Makler […]


  5. […] for the day: Just Add Love, by Irris […]


  6. […] learned about this beautiful book after reading Lisa’s review.  I put my name down to borrow a copy from my local library and, almost twelve months later, […]


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