Digging Deep Into the Collective Kitchens of Israel

'Chadar Ochel' Cookbook Captures the Tastes of Kibbutz Life

What’s for Dinner: A kibbutz member helps prepare a meal at Kibbutz Mefalsim in 1960.
Courtesy of 'Chadar Ochel'
What’s for Dinner: A kibbutz member helps prepare a meal at Kibbutz Mefalsim in 1960.

By Jonathan Cummings

Published April 16, 2013, issue of April 19, 2013.
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Take, for example, the steamed pudding of Kibbutz Beit Hanassi. When its British immigrant members hankered for home, they dreamed of the kind of pudding dished up in a thousand school canteens, smothered in custard. The only problem was finding a receptacle in which to cook it. For weeks they ate tinned peas until the huge cans were empty and reused as steamers.

On Kfar Masaryk, just over the road from Akko, the dining room faced competition from the local Arab hummus joints until the cooks decided to master the recipe themselves. Near Haifa, on Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael, an early Canadian volunteer’s determination to use up Friday night’s leftover challah just as he did at home still has volunteers up early on Shabbat morning, frying hundreds of slices of French toast.

A hint of larger Israeli stories are at play in the book, too. Kibbutz Kinneret’s famed teigelach, the honey-drenched cookies beloved by Litvaks, were parceled up in a Red Cross package, intended to reach one of its members who had fallen into Syrian captivity during the 1973 Yom Kippur war. What better way to guarantee that he would know the food came from home?

Sadly, now, as the kibbutz morphs in a new Israel, the huge buildings stand largely silent.

In truth, the communal dining room faced challenges from its earliest days, starting with a popular Israeli household item, the kumkum or electric kettle. Once members could make instant coffee at home, they began to do so. Surreptitiously at first, and then more openly, members’ lives moved towards their own homes, and away from the center, but some of these recipes endured.

The traditional kibbutz has mostly passed away, but it is not yet a piece of history. “Chadar Ochel” is neither a glossy celebration-of-life album, a practical how-to guide for the aspiring kibbutz cook, nor a somber sefer zikaron, a catalog of death. Weaving the contemporary with the historical, it captures both the vulnerabilities and the essential resilience of the kibbutz as idea and as reality — and places food at its heart.

Try Kibbutz Kinnert’s recipe for teigelach here

Contact Jonathan Cummings at feedback@forward.com


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