Baking Breakfast

Delicious, Wholesome Muffins, Breads and Cakes
Inspired by Three Generations of Family Cooking


Jill Berkowitz Provan was born in Boston, Massachusetts, into a family of food lovers, cooks, and restaurateurs. For some family members, cooking was a serious hobby; for others, it was a livelihood. Jill grew up eating wonderful food made with high-quality ingredients, and this shaped her life. 

In Baking Breakfast, Jill Berkowitz Provan puts her passion for baking to work. She has created recipes and updated the traditional ingredients of her parents and grandparents by adding healthy alternatives that have only recently become widely available. The result is a cookbook filled with delicious, wholesome breakfast breads, muffins, and cakes, including many that are gluten-free.

Illustrations by Rachel Ivanyi. Print and web design by Jessica Y Lee.

Excerpt from the Introduction to Baking Breakfast


Food was important in Harry and Frances Berkowitz’s house, a family affair shared with any of their children’s friends who happened to be around at meal time, and aunts and cousins and nieces, who filled the house each Friday night to eat dinner and play the Russian card game Durak (“the fool”). 

Frances, a barely five-feet-tall bundle of energy, was welcoming and relaxed. She did, however, maintain an orderly home and encouraged responsibility. A weekly job list was taped to the inside door of a kitchen cabinet and everyone had a part in keeping the kitchen functioning. (All except George, who usually had a date or some other engagement on the nights when it was his turn to wash the dishes.) Responsibilities didn’t stop in the home. They included working at Harry’s grocery store, Legal Cash Market, in Boston’s Inman Square. Harry’s children and grandchildren all harbor memories of exploring the meat locker filled with hanging animal carcasses, and, when allowed, freely grabbing a treat from the shelves of food. My mainstay was a small, rectangular box of Cheez-Its, which I toted around the store by a purse-style string.

After a long week at Legal’s, Harry proudly escorted Frances, whom he called “my girl,” and their five children—in order of birth: Leonard, George, Ethel, Stanley, and Donald—out to dinner. Each Sunday they walked from their Mattapan home down the street to their favorite Chinese restaurant. That changed when Frances decided it was time to move the family to the suburbs. When the perfect home went on sale in Newton, she hastily purchased it without consulting Harry. They moved into the new house, and Harry did not talk to Frances for one month—quite an ordeal for a man whose first action when he came home from work late at night was to embrace his wife, lift her up, and exclaim, “How’s my girl?” 

I remember the back door that my grandfather walked through into this house each night, because it opened onto a screened porch—and what treasures that porch held! In winter it served as a second refrigerator, laden with pots of beans and meat and potato dumplings (tzimmes), among other mouth-watering delights. There were never enough of those sticky, sweet dumplings. I’ve never tasted them anywhere else; or, if I have, the experience was flushed away by the memory of my grandmother’s incomparable ones. 

George, Stanley, Ethel, Donald and Leonard Berkowitz

George, Stanley, Ethel, Donald and Leonard Berkowitz

When the extended family grew larger, we spent holidays at my Aunt Ethel and Uncle Oscar’s large home in Beverly, Massachusetts. My cousins, aunts, uncles, and Grammy and Granddaddy drove the 45 minutes for a daylong celebration. Of course, the focus of the festivities was food – and could Ethel cook! There was so much variety and creativity: spare ribs, baked Alaska, and turkey with three different dressings.

George was the only one to make cooking a career.  In 1950 he opened a fish market adjacent to his father’s grocery, where he fried fish on Fridays for the Catholics in the neighborhood.  Julia Child was living in Cambridge at the time and bought all her fish from George. In 1968, when he opened Legal Sea Foods Restaurant next to his shop, on the site of Legal Cash Market, Child created the signature recipe for the coleslaw that accompanied every meal. Legal Sea Foods has become a Boston institution, and now, six decades later, the restaurant has more than 30 locations populating the Eastern Seaboard, as well as an online fish market and retail product line. For my cousin Roger Berkowitz, who took over as CEO and president of Legal Sea Foods in 1992, eating good food isn’t just an essential part of life; it’s his livelihood.

Harry and Frances instilled in their children a love of food and cooking. For Leonard, George, Ethel, Stanley, and Donald, shopping for ingredients and preparing, serving, and eating food with friends and loved ones were the highlights of their days. Whenever I do the same, I find myself conjuring memories of these wonderful people and the meals they shared. 


I inherited my grandma Sophie Gruber’s rolling pin. She used it daily to make cinnamon rolls, strudels, and lemon meringue and fruit pies. Sophie’s baking was extraordinary. For her children – Stanley, Roslyn, Thelma, and Sylvia – these delicacies were legend.

Sylvia remembers: Sophie never wrote anything down and never measured. She would show you how to roll out the dough or whip up a meringue, but when you asked, “How much of this?” or “How much of that?” she would reply with some consternation:  “Well, until it’s the right consistency,” or, “Until it tastes right.” 

Mother saved unused egg whites for a week, which made the topping enormous. When one came out of the oven, it was really significant, like a ship had landed on the kitchen counter.  Sophie’s home meant a lot to her. But the kitchen held special power. Feeding a family of six was no small challenge, and Sophie spent many hours in the kitchen. I can still see her in her chenille bathrobe and hairnet, rousing the household early in the morning, preparing for a day of cooking.

Sylvia, Sophie, Rosalyn, Stanley and Thelma Gruber

Sylvia, Sophie, Rosalyn, Stanley and Thelma Gruber


Alexander and Olivia Provan preparing muffins.

Alexander and Olivia Provan preparing muffins.