[Collected on the Internet, 1994]
The new Jewish bride is making her first big dinner for her husband and tries her hand at her mother's brisket recipe, cutting off the ends of the roast the way her mother always did. Hubby thinks the meat is delicious, but says, "Why do you cut off the
The next week, they go to the old bubbie's house, and she prepares the famous brisket recipe, again cutting off the ends. The young bride is sure she must be missing some vital information, so she askes her grandma why she cut off the ends. Grandma says, "Dahlink, that's the only way it will fit in the pan!"
In this respect, they are as bad as "this old boy down home." His wife sent him to the store for a ham. After he bought it, she asked him why he didn't have the butcher cut off the end of the ham. "This old boy" asked his wife why she wanted the end cut off. She replied that her mother had always done it that way and that was reason enough for her. Since the wife's mother was visiting, they asked her why she always cut off the end of the ham. Mother replied that this was the way her mother did it; Mother, daughter and "this old boy" then decided to call grandmother and solve this three-generation mystery. Grandmother promptly replied that she cut the end of the ham because her roaster was too small to cook it in one piece.
- In many tellings, the bride emulates her mother's behavior and her mother is found to be but doing what her mother always did. Bride and mother consult with the grandmother only to discover that Grandma's "secret" had to do with a too-small roasting pan. Two generations have slavishly followed the tradition without understanding it.
- Oftentimes it's the new husband who insists upon questioning the inexplicable procedure because his wife appears not to care about its mechanics. In her world, that it works is enough; understanding its mystery is beside the point.
- Variations of the tale include cutting the bones out of the drumsticks before roasting the turkey or removing the drumsticks and cooking them in a separate pan (the oven was too small to roast the bird intact), cutting two inches off a new broom (short broom closet), always removing the bottom lid of a can (tops were dusty), and fastening balls of cotton onto a new screen door "to keep out the flies" (Mom used to stuff cotton balls into holes in the ancient screen door).
It's upon this assumption this legend rests. Many of the secrets of being a good cook are counterintuitive, and it's easy to adopt an "I don't know how this works, I just know it does" stance as yet another of Mom's recipes proves to turn out only when certain procedures are rigidly followed. The stage is set, so to speak, for the "too big for the pan" joke.
Often told within the Jewish religion, this tale is a parable for teaching the importance of understanding the whys of religious rituals. It is not enough, says this legend, to perform by rote — if observance is to have value, the reasons behind a tradition have to be appreciated as well as the ritual itself faithfully carried out. What better way to express this concept than by telling a tale of a bride and a trimmed roast?
In 2001, the following version of this classic appeared in the Canadian edition of Reader's Digest:
"When we brought the cans up from the cellar, the tops were always dusty," her mother explained. "I couldn't be bothered to clean them, so I turned them upside down and opened the bottom."
Well, with every cake that went into the oven, a pan of water went in too... I didn't ask him why, while cooking, figuring that surely it was some secret for making the cakes more moist.
He made sure to point this out to his mother when we arrived. She complimented him on his remembering. I am brave enough to ask, in this crowded kitchen, with food laid out for at least
"I used to put a pan of water in there because my racks were uneven."
"My mom always did that to help the turkey thaw" she told him.
The next day Mom calls to see how everything is going. "Fine, Ma. I have everything ready to go in the oven. I even remembered to put the rack over the turkey last night."
This seemed to confuse her mother a bit. "What are you talking about?" she asked.
"Oh, I remember you always put the dish rack over the turkey when it was thawing in the sink," she said.
There was a pause on the end of the line. "Yes, but honey, we had cats!"
"I wanted to save time, chief, and I've seen you stand on one leg, grab the wires and splice without turning off the power."
"My God, kid," exclaimed the chief. "Didn't you know I have a wooden leg?"
Barbara "wooden you know it?" Mikkelson
Sightings: This legend surfaces in a 1994 episode of television's
Last updated: 3 November 2005
Brunvand, Jan Harold. Curses! Broiled Again! New York: W. W. Norton, 1989. ISBN 0-393-30711-5 (pp. 191-192). Brunvand, Jan Harold. Too Good to Be True. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999. ISBN 0-393-04734-2 (pp. 146-147). Mays, Alan E. "The Pan Was Too Small." FOAFTale News. June 1996 (pp. 15-16). Ziglar, Zig. See You At the Top. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 1975. ISBN 0-88289-126-X (p. 148). Reader's Digest. "Humor in Uniform." February 1958 (p. 20). Reader's Digest (Canadian edition). "Life's Like That." February 2001 (p. 192).