Grandma’s nuts; Zeda’s Beat Box returns

Should you be in need of an inexpensive Hanukkah gift that happens to be nutritious and delicious or something festive to bring to a holiday party instead of the customary bottle of wine, consider Grandma’s Nuts.

Although this company officially turns one in January, it began more than 35 years ago when Marcia Schechter, a nice Jewish mother living in Ladue at the time, worried about what her teenage son would eat.

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Anat Cohen at The Sheldon


“He announced that he was going to be a vegetarian,” recalls Schechter, a mother of four sons who is now 74-years-old and lives in Creve Coeur. “I was concerned about his eating and wanted to make sure he got all the nutrients he needed.”

The time was the early 1970s, before Americans became fixated with dieting and nutrition, and health food stores were at a premium. She began researching what she could feed her vegetarian son that was nutritious, tasted good and would help him grow.

The answer: a concoction of nuts, including soy nuts, and dried fruits that could not only be eaten as a snack, but also mixed into yogurt and oatmeal, sprinkled onto salads and even used in sandwiches. Not only did her son eat it up, everyone else did, too.

Schechter didn’t think much of turning her homemade recipes into a business until decades later, when one of her grandsons, enrolled in an entrepreneurial class at college, suggested it to her, along with the company name. At the time, she was working at a shop in Plaza Frontenac that was shutting down and needed something else to do.

“Last holiday season I tested it all out by selling (Grandma’s Nuts) to family and friends to give as gifts,” she says. “They all seemed to love it, so I approached Straub’s about selling there and they were very receptive and have been totally supportive.”

Today, Grandma’s Nuts are available at www.grandmas-nuts.com as well as locally at all Straub’s Market, Ladue Market, Whole Foods (Brentwood), Local Harvest (Tower Grove) and Great Harvest Bread Company (Olivette). Schechter has an arrangement with Great Harvest where she does all her mixing and packaging at the company’s plant in Olivette so that it’s done in a commercial kitchen. And she been able to employ two of her granddaughters “because I’m a big believer in family businesses,” she said, adding that while she isn’t exactly making millions, she is “in the black and going strong.”

* I have two notable YouTube videos to pass on this week. The first, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=edhtdoPukk0, is about Chinese Jews who are descendants from Kaifeng arriving in Israel. Kaifeng, a Jewish community in China, is said to have existed for 1,000 years, and dates back to the 8th or 9th century. After a process of assimilation and intermarriage, the community ceased to exist as a collective entity in 19th century.

According to Michael Freund of Shavei Israel, the remnants of the community made great efforts to try and preserve their Jewish identity and passed it down from generation to generation. In recent years, more and more young people who are descendants from Kaifeng are looking to connect with their Jewish roots and are coming to Israel with the help of Freund’s organization.

The other not-to-miss video is the one where Mormon Senator Orrin Hatch’s Hanukkah song is performed, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=XND3Naa6N5o. The back story, which can be read in detail at http://jeffreygoldberg.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/12/a_melody_fit_for_a_maccabee.php, is that reporter Jeffrey Goldberg, who in 1999 was writing a story about Hatch for the New York Times Magazine, was asked by the senator if Goldberg was aware of Hatch’s songwriting prowess. After spending an hour in his office listening to some of his music, including several Christmas songs, Goldberg asked Hatch, “What about Hanukkah songs? You have any of those?”

Nothing became of the question until last year when Hatch contacted Goldberg to share the Hanukkah song the senator had finally written called “The Eight Days of Hanukkah.” In truth, Hatch has written only the lyrics. The tune was composed by Madeline Stone, a Jewish songwriter who writes contemporary Christian music, and is sung by Rasheeda Azar, a Syrian-American from Terre Haute, Ind.

In the YouTube video, Hatch is seen singing background vocals and displaying the mezuzah he wears under his shirt.

* The Jewish rock ‘n’ reggae band Zeda’s Beat Box returns to the concert stage Saturday, Dec. 26 after a six-month sabbatical from performing. The band will reunite for a concert at Dave Simon’s Rock School, 1305 Baur Road in Olivette, where it was originally formed.

Zeda’s Beat Box first brought their mix of Jewish tradition and modern music to St. Louis in 2007. The band spent the next two years building up an interfaith fan base as they brought the sounds of the bimah to the nightclub. The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. and costs $5.