If ready-made and microwavable meals were the novelty foods of the ’90s, “back to basics” is the motto of the 2010s.
Twenty-somethings across the country are rolling up their sleeves and joining their grandparents in their kitchens, learning to make the dishes their bubbes and zeydes were raised on — in some cases, recipes they carried with them from “the old country” to America. In the process, they are learning the stories of the dishes that sustained their families.
Of course, looking to grandparents for recipe advice is nothing new, and individual recipes can be found hidden in the pages of countless cookbooks. But several new recipe projects in the Jewish community are offering something different, says Jewish librarian and cookbook collector Roberta Saltzman: They’re teaming up groups of like-minded recipe documenters and putting the stories of Jewish family recipes online.
Beyond Bubbie, the largest of these projects, bills itself as “an interactive community cookbook and a place to share the stories and memories connected to these recipes.” Anyone can send in a recipe with a story, and since its launch in 2012, 90 or so people have. Contributors range from once-in a-blue-moon cooks to Jewish food icon Joan Nathan, who shared her mother-in-law’s recipe for Zamosc gefilte fish.
The project’s definition of bubbe is all encompassing. “A ‘Bubbie’ could just as easily be a favorite uncle, beloved family friend, or next door neighbor,” the website states. “What makes them a Bubbie in our books is the love they’ve poured into these dishes and the memories you’ve created over them.”
In addition to the website, the project also has a social component. Reboot, the Jewish organization that funds the project, organizes workshops and events to bring people together through food and stories, and provides a DIY toolkit to other organizations who want to do the same.
Food writer David Sax, who is one of the minds behind the project, explained that the recipes aren’t the real focus of these projects. “What makes a recipe interesting is the story,” he said. “Every bubbe has a kugel, but if your bubbe grew up in Shanghai and mine grew up in Berlin before the Holocaust, they will have drastically different experiences.”
Like the recipes themselves, these projects reach across borders. Rebecca Lessard, Claudia Itzkowich, Myrite Rotstein and Sarah Cohen-Fournier connected in 2011 over a short video that Lessard had made of her Syrian grandmother teaching her to make mehshi kusa (stuffed zucchini). That video ultimately inspired Roots and Recipes, a project similar to Beyond Bubbie that focuses on the diverse Jewish community of Montreal.