Bibring: A Culinary Biography
Bibring was an intellectually precocious youth, a medical student with
for problem solving, and an accomplished clinician and
teacher. Her affinity for medicine and her deductive skill were
complemented by an intuition born of compassion. Dr. Bibring
cared deeply for her friends and family, surrounding herself with loved
ones during times of both suffering and triumph. In a
memorial address for Dr. Bibring, Helen Tartakoff speaks
of tense times in Austria during the Nazi occupation.
Tartakoff remembers Bibring as a reliable and stolid force during that
with the resourcefulness,
courage, and reality-orientation which have
always been characteristic of her, Grete decided to prepare for
expatriation by learning to cook. She invited a group of
friends to Sunday lunch to partake of her piece de resistance, Poulet
la Bonne Femme!
Not only was the lunch excellent but the opportunity to enjoy a quiet
family meal, in a city teeming with tension, left an unforgettable
This woman neither lost her equilibrium in the face of grave danger nor
relaxed her high standards.
Grete Bibring cherished her personal relationships above all else. Time
spent with loved ones was often passed at the dinner table, and the
meticulously recorded menus and guestlists of these meals create a
unique record of how Dr. Bibring created a life nourishing to
mind, body, and spirit.
Bibring's household notebooks begin recording menus and guest lists
in the late fall of 1927. The information contained in these
entries reflects the optimism and youthful enthusiasm felt by the
Bibrings and their friends in Vienna. Central European and
traditional Austrian cuisine is featured heavily in meals
prepared for a variety of guests from Vienna's thriving community of
psychoanalysts. Many menus also feature lighthearted courses, such as
Bibring's special strawberry dessert, "Erdbeeren
menus of the late
1920's and the better part of the 1930's also
reflect a closeness of the Vienna psychoanalysts that would be
fractured by the Anschluss and Second World War. A menu entry
for the 6th of November, 1935, illustrates this clearly. Of
the eight guests attending lunch at the Bibring home, not one would
settle near the Bibrings, in Boston, after the Nazi invasion of Austria.
Though not in Boston, most of the guests at the November luncheon would
evetually settle in the United States. After time spent in Berlin,
Paris, and new York City, Rene Spitz would make Denver his home.
Frances Deri and Hannah Heilborn would both move to Los
Angeles in the late 1930's, while Annie Reich and Berte Bornstein would
move to New York City during that same time period. Both Reich and
Bornstein would go on to spend time in Pennsylvania - Pittsburgh and
Philadelphia, respectively. Steff Bornstein, as well as Michael and
Alice Balint, would leave Austria, but not Europe. Ms.
Bornstein died in Prague in 1939. The Balints emigrated to
London in 1939, where Alice died a premature death, just six months
the latter part of
the 1930's, Hitler's grip on Europe was
tightening. Every aspect of day-to-day
life was effected - especially for Europe's Jewish population. These
changes in lifestyle are reflected in Grete's household notebooks,
especially in the months preceding the Anschluss.
Menu entries become crowded and seem hurried, and guest lists change as
friends and colleagues flee Vienna. The shifting guest lists
visits from Walter Langer, one of the Bibring's American colleagues
working to aid Austrians in their escape. Langer, a Boston native,
would ultimately become best known for his wartime psychological
The menus recorded in the household notebook
from 1938 also indicate a change in the food being prepared for guests.
Entrées become simpler and meals lean increasingly toward
what might be best described as "comfort food." One example of this
comfort food is Griessnockerlsuppe, listed in the menus for both the
26th of March and the 5th of April. This soup of beef broth and
dumplings, which gain their distinctive
shape by being dropped from teaspoons, is a classic offering in Austria
and southern Germany.
Notebook, 1938, 1941-1959
fleeing Vienna with Freud's party in June 1938, the Bibrings
settled temporarily in London, then permanently in the Boston area. Not
surprisingly, Grete's household notebooks reflect this
period of chaos and movement, with pages providing London menus torn
notebook and tucked inside the cover of a later, Boston-based notebook.
Menu entries also show evidence of Dr. Bibring's assimilation
to life in America; entries become a mixture of both German and English
many of the guests most often entertained in Vienna go missing from the
pages of this household notebook.
As the Bibrings became settled in greater
Boston and stability returned to their lives, order returned to Dr.
household notebooks. Positive developments in both Grete's and Edward's
lives also begin to show in the recorded events and guest lists of the
Bibring household. In particular, with Grete's appointment to
Chief of Psychiatry at Beth Israel hospital, punch socials for her
residents become a normal occurrence.
punch social menus further reflect Dr. Bibring's
unique American experience in a surprising way - the menus
how Dr. Bibring must reconcile her enthusiasm and success at work with
the realities of a country at war. For the household
notebooks and the menus contained therein, that means rationing. The
heavy meat entrées prepared in traditional Austrian fashion
the menus. Grete's planned meals show an increased use of
decidedly simple, more American foods and beverages, such as Cherry
Coke and sandwiches. Dr. Bibring still manages to serve
some Austrian favorites, such as the strawberry or pineapple punches
served to coworkers. Served with simple snacks, this
combination of fruit, wine, and sugar was a satisfying treat.
the years progress, the menus again
reveal a period of change in
Bibring's life - though the changes reflected in the latter pages of
this household notebook are not positive. By July of 1958,
Bibring's large punch socials have ceased. From November of
that same year through mid-January of 1959, there is no record of Grete
Bibring entertaining any guests at all. These dates coincide
with the declining health and eventual death of Edward Bibring. Grete
Bibring's first entry after Edward's death, dated the
25th of January, 1959, is a brunch for just three listed guests. The
simple brunch menu is anchored by a traditional Austrian
Palatschinken. Palatschinken are similar to crêpes and are
served stuffed with sweet or savory fillings. In this
instance, Bibring serves the Palatschinken stuffed with chicken liver.
Bibring's third and final notebook
spans the years 1960 to 1977, and reflects a return to the busy
entertaining schedule she maintained in the mid 1950s. Though
they are carefully numbered from 1 to 32, the initial pages of this
notebook are mostly loose leaves of paper listing large punch social
guest lists or multi-course menus meant to feed large parties.
Grete Bibring's menus have also adapted over time, showcasing
distinctly American foods. In this 1963 brunch menu, Grete
references two brand names: French's and Pillsbury. While the
French's fried potatoes may refer to a potato pancake mix no longer
being made, Pillsbury crescent rolls remain a popular offering on many
American tables. Dr. Bibring's third menu book blends uniquely American
foods with international offerings and Austrian favorites. One such
favorite, served regularly as an appetizer with
and crackers or toast points, is Liptauer. Liptauer is made
with a blend of cheese, fish, and spices. While it is sometimes
said that families create and maitain their own unique Liptauer recipe
variations, nearly all recipes seem to revolve around anchovies,
capers, and mustard.
Grete struggled with her health in her later years, she continued to
maintain an active social schedule. Visitors to the Bibring
home in Cambridge were a common site, for punch socials and - later on
- for small, private teas. The two menus shown below are
indicative of the adaptations Grete made over time. The first
shows the menu and guest list for a large punch social, unique in that
it is the only entry in all three notebooks that specifically indicates
using catering services. Sandwiches were purchased at the well-known
Shop," and a business card for a Harvard University bartender is
stapled to the bottom corner of the page. The second menu,
shown on the right, is from the final page of Dr. Bibring's notebook.
It lists information regarding a series of afternoon teas
held when Dr. Bibring's health was in decline. Though the inclusion of
is incomplete, guest lists are clearly recorded. These final gatherings
show visits from Dr. Helen Tartakoff (mentioned in the introduction of
exhibit), as well as Drs. Sanford and Ingrid Gifford.
are many ways to tell the life story of a woman like Dr. Grete Bibring.
A traditional biography creates an image of a determined and
compassionate woman, while her professional records tell the story of a
deeply intelligent and insightful doctor. A life story drawn
from the pages of menus, recipes, and guestlists brings the varied
biographies together, showing Grete Bibring for the unique and
celebrated woman she was.
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