Chicken Soup for the Web Soul

Grandmothers join the YouTube craze as a cooking class takes off online.

Aug. 8, 2007 — -- Log on to YouTube and see video of the skateboarder who survived a harrowing 45-foot plunge during an X-games competition, or singer Beyonce tripping and falling during a recent concert in Orlando, Fla. Or go online and find 80-year-old "Bubbe" Scher dispensing recipes for her trademark jellie jammies.

These days, Bayla Scher, a grandmother from Worcester, Mass. — along with many more seniors — is making and posting videos. YouTube and similar Web sites are no longer just for the young and hip. The older and hip are joining in the fun, too.

Scher, who prefers to be called Bubbe, appears on a monthly podcast called "Feed Me Bubbe." In each episode, she reveals a recipe for a favorite dish (chicken soup and matzoh balls was the subject of a recent show) as well as a Yiddish word of the day — part of her insistence on serving a dollop of Jewish culture along with the culinary advice.

"Feed Me Bubbe" was the brainstorm of her 23-year-old grandson, Avrom Honig, who lives with his parents on the other side of Worcester. He wanted to do a podcast about something — anything — just for the experience, and came up with the idea of videotaping his grandmother in her kitchen talking about food — her food.

"He said, 'Bubbe, would you help me?'" Scher recalls. "He said, 'Why don't you make jelly jammies we all like, just make believe I'm not here,' OK, and I do that, and a week later, he came back. He says, 'Bubbe, do you want to see it?' 'Oh, is that me?' I was excited — it was really something."

"At the time, it was just the way to do a podcast. But then, once we really started, and once we started doing episodes, we realized, 'There is something here, there is something here that everybody really truly needs,'" said Honig, a recent college graduate.

"They may not realize that they need it right away, but once they watch an episode, 'Wow, I remember going to Grandma's,' or 'Oh, my goodness, that recipe?'"

Grandmother and grandson have taped and posted a dozen shows in the year since "Feed Me Bubbe" began last summer. Cumulatively, the show has had more than 200,000 hits, and has gained quite a loyal following, as revealed in some of the comments on YouTube.

"Oh, my gosh, I love this lady — how cute and sweet is she?!?! I wish I'd had a Bubbe like that!" wrote "bndlazar."

"Your video brought joy and tears of learning how to cook from my mother and grandmother. Bubbe is truly from 'the greatest generation.' Thank you," wrote "lydiakalifornia."

And another grandmother commented, "Ohmagod, when I'm older, and so is my grandson Benjamin, I hope he'll video me preparing my favorite mandlebrot (mandle bread).

Jazz, Food and Some Help With Lids

"Feed Me Bubbe" is just one of a growing number of videos posted by or featuring older Americans.

"What started out as young people goofing around and kind of putting up their own home brew videos, has now grown into something where you see the elderly embrace this with help from their grandkids, so they can tell their own stories and memorialize their lives," said Omar Sowow, a Harvard University graduate student and Internet analyst.

Among the things you can find posted by elderly Americans are performances by Mississippi's Gulfport Senior Citizens Harmonica Club, a video by 92-year-old Paul Goodman plunking out a jazz tune on the miniature piano he built himself, and a rather whimsical videoblog called "I can't open this" in which 81-year-old Millie Garfield seeks her son's help, well, opening such things as a coffee can lid.

"You're getting a kind of lower production value," Sowow said, "but sort of a very authentic slice of life that never really comes through in conventional, very polished television. It's just a natural extension of cheap video production tools, easy ways to share it, and our sort of deep human need to tell our stories."

It's a culinary — and cultural — legacy Scher shares with people she'll never know; people she'll never meet. For Scher, that legacy is food lovingly made.

"It's unbelievable," she said, relaxing on the living room couch with her grandson beside her. "I never realized the need. It seems the young people out of college, and young adults, they're busy, and they want to cook. I feel I make nourishing foods, and make it easy for them, and we've got a lot of compliments back, and it gives me more encouragement to continue."

Stay tuned. The videotaped wisdom and experiences of experienced Americans are coming soon to a Web site near you.