My children, Cookie and Teebo, first met Baba Edis in the 1980s, welcoming her into our home as a visitor from the county library. A Ukrainian peasant woman, Baba Edis is the unlikely heroine of a delightful children's story, first published in 1979 by Carolyn Croll, titled Too Many Babas.
The story offers a clever, literal treatment of the idiom "Too many cooks spoil the broth." In it, Baba Edis, awakening on a winter morning, decides to make some soup "to warm her bones." While she is in the process of simmering a bone with beans, carrots, celery, cabbage, and onion, she is visited by three of her friends--Baba Basha, Baba Yetta, and Baba Molka--who each in turn determine that they should all stay for lunch because the soup smells so scrumptious.
During the course of the morning, each of the other babas ventures to the kitchen to taste the soup. In doing so, as best I remember, Baba Basha adds a "fistful" of salt, Baba Yetta turns the handle of the pepper grinder a few too many times, and Baba Molka throws in a whole garlic bulb.
When everyone finally sits down to lunch, they belly up to four bowls of soup that tastes "terrible." Even the face of Baba Edis' cat is contorted into a grimace. So the babas have to start from scratch in order to produce another pot of soup for supper, this time working together but leaving the seasoning to Baba Edis alone.
Even as the kids outgrew the reading of this endearing tale with its memorable folk-artsy illustrations, references to it continued to pop up at random times in our conversations. Maybe we were having some kind of soup for dinner. Maybe we saw an old lady in a head scarf. It seemed that Baba Edis and her baba-friends were never far from our minds.
One time, when the kids were a tween and a teen, we were talking about the story and realized, to our great horror, that among the three of us, we could come up with the names of only three of the babas. I racked my brain over this to the point that I actually went to the library to find the book and ferret out the missing baba. Barring Alzheimer's, I will not be forgetting Baba Yetta again.
Several years ago I ran into a copy of Too Many Babas at a yard sale for a quarter. It was like I had found gold. Because we had enjoyed this story so much as a family a generation ago, I sent it home with Cookie, hoping the tradition would continue with her children. It seems that it has.
On speakerphone with Pooh the other day, I heard Cookie prompting in the background, "Tell Googie what we're making for dinner." Whereupon Pooh told me, to my utter delight, "We're making Baba Edis soup."
Indeed, Cookie had bought a soup bone and all the vegetables mentioned in the story. She bought a loaf of dark bread just like the four babas ate with their soup. (She was surprised that the kids liked pumpernickel.) Finally, in an effort to stay true to the story, she topped the meal off with some tea. I love the whole idea of a family meal based on this great little children's masterpiece.
By the way, baba is the Ukrainian word for "grandma." A diminutive of babushka, it would compare in our language to something like "grammy"--or, with a slight stretch of the imagination, "googie."
Here in our part of the country, winter is coming, and with it, soup weather. If you find yourself spending time with a little person you love, may I suggest for you a good book to snuggle up with and an easy, fun baba-inspired meal to warm your bones on a cold day.