Food historian, cookbook writer, and author of the pivotal ‘Encyclopedia of Jewish Food’ died in Jerusalem today at 62, after a three-year battle with cancer.
Sometimes we need to encounter something new to help us unearth a remnant from the past. For Joelle Abramowitz, that something is sorrel.
Moment Magazine asked 18 experts “Is There a Secret Ingredient in the Jewish Relationship with Food?” in their latest issue — and got some fascinating answers. Below are three of them and we’ll post three more in the coming days with permission from the magazine. We want to hear what you think. Share your thoughts in the comments.
By my bedside at any given time, I have two or three books on rotation. Currently one of those books is Russ Parsons’ How to Pick a Peach. The main idea is simple, but often overlooked: good food comes from good ingredients. In today’s world, how many of us know to store an onion, or a potato, a peach, or a pear? Do we know when fruits ripen, or even when they are in season? Can we tell when they are not, now that strawberries are always a bold, eye-popping red and peaches always a fuzzy pink? And even if the ingredient is good, which variety of pear is the best? Do we know how to core that pear? Poach it?
“I beg to differ…what you have made is NOT a kugel.”
I have often wondered what would happen if I was able to meet the matriarchs and patriarchs of Jewish food in one place. In my mind, I imagine a council of dignified cooks, cookbook authors, culinary historians and restaurant critics, some donning aprons and carrying wooden spoons, others carrying historic Jewish cookbooks, all passionately debating the best Jewish food. In this dream, there’s smorgasbord of global Jewish food.
Elaine Benes was onto something when she declared “You can’t beat a babka” in a 1994 episode of “Seinfeld” (clip below). Next to brisket and latkes, babka may be the ultimate Jewish comfort food. (For those unfamiliar, babka is yeasty, risen dough that twists around a sweet filling to create striations, or, in laymen’s terms, layers of deliciousness.) Sometimes spelled bobke, recipes for this treat have been passed down by Eastern European grandmothers throughout the Diaspora. And while it may appear as though chocolate is the traditional babka (didn’t Elaine also declare cinnamon “the lesser babka”?), the truth is that it is a decadent, twentieth century American addition.
Imagine removing the sweet and sticky poppy seed filling from a hamentaschen. Now, roll this into soft and light yeast dough to form a log. After baking, cut into slices, and admire the black swirl against the light pastry, a kind of Ashkanazi yin-yang delicacy. It used to be a classic Purim treat, both in my family and in Poland and Israel.
Nowhere do form and function meet so well as in a warm bowl of cholent. The hearty Sabbath stew known by an endless array of names and flavors in Jewish communities around the world is essentially an outgrowth of two seemingly opposing forces: The Jewish laws prohibiting cooking on the Sabbath and the encouragement offered by the rabbis in the Talmud to have a hot lunch on Saturday afternoon. These dishes cook sleepily at low temperatures from Friday afternoon onward, coming together brilliantly right on time for post-synagogue feasting.