The e-mail came with a photo of an elderly man in a butcher’s coat next to the faded, black-and-white image of a tot. “At age 87, my father is re-launching his meat business — which for fifty years was a staple of the Jewish community in Canada,” Miriam Perl wrote to the Forward. “Suggested headline: Holocaust Survivor reinvents himself at age 87.”
Until a fire destroyed Herschel Perl’s kosher-foods business in 2006, it was indeed a mainstay of Jewish Toronto, supplying more than half the city’s market for ready-made kosher. The business, which started as a tiny shop in Toronto’s west end in 1953, eventually grew into a 60-employee enterprise. Its retail operation grew into Canada’s largest kosher meat store. Perl’s even opened a Glatt kosher fast-food spot called Bais Burger.
“Perl’s butcher shop and hamburger joint were icons in the frum neighborhood here,” Chad Derrick, a Toronto television producer and kosher consumer, told the Forward. “Perl’s was everywhere.”
Now, after a six-year absence, Herschel Perl is about to sink his teeth into the meat business again. This time, he’s launching a wholesale business to crank out beloved Perl’s products like salami, hotdogs, pepperoni, pepperettes, turkey and chicken deli slices. The kosher pioneer has already secured distribution in local kosher retail outlets; he expects the products to hit shelves in national chains like Loblaws, Sobey’s, Metro, Fortino’s and Costco within weeks.
With help from his daughter, the Forward caught up with Herschel Perl by e-mail in Toronto.
Kosherfest, the largest (and only) kosher food industry trade show in the world, hosted its 24th annual expo in Secaucus, NJ, on November 13th and 14th. Thousands of players in the kosher food world show up each year, from giants like Manischewitz, Streit’s and Osem, to the godfathers of kosher certification, including the big four: the Orthodox Union, Circle K, Star-K and Kof-K.
But a multitude of small, niche entrepreneurs in the industry show up as well, reflecting not just the trajectory of kosher food over the years, but the way in which overarching American food trends filter into the Orthodox world. Kosherfest is a far cry from the artisan food world of Brooklyn, where we are from — and where our business, The Gefilteria, is located. So we went down to New Jersey to report as independent purveyors. Here’s our minute-by-minute view of this very kosher landscape.
Craft beer brewing is an art. The craft brewer is self-mandated to blend the complex flavors from water, malts, hops and yeasts into a harmony of delight. There is also a creed of the craft brewer as described by the Brewer’s Association:
• The hallmark of craft beer and craft brewers is innovation. Craft brewers interpret historic styles with unique twists and develop new styles that have no precedent.
• Craft beer is generally made with traditional ingredients like malted barley; interesting and sometimes non-traditional ingredients are often added for distinctiveness.
• Craft brewers tend to be very involved in their communities through philanthropy, product donations, volunteerism, and sponsorship of events.
• Craft brewers have distinctive, individualistic approaches to connecting with their customers.
• Craft brewers maintain integrity by what they brew and their general independence, free from a substantial interest by a non-craft brewer.
For centuries, Jewish food traditions have been passed down from generation to generation. In kitchens around the world, parents and grandparents have guided youngsters as they roll their first matzo balls for soup, taste the batter for a sour cream coffeecake, or learn the sharp, malty scent of baking sourdough bread. But when a young person loses her whole family — as Regina Karolinski and Bella Katz each did during the Holocaust — those secrets of hearth and home get lost along with everything else.
In the new film “Oma & Bella” German filmmaker Alexa Karolinski (Regina’s granddaughter) tells the story of her oma (German for “grandmother”) and her best friend Bella — two elegant and charismatic women, both Holocaust survivors, who now live, kibbitz and cook together in their shared Berlin apartment. Fortified with slowly caramelized onions, generous pinches of sugar, and other ingredients associated with Jewish soul food, Oma and Bella’s cooking — their brisket-filled blintzes, their barley soup, and lusciously-soft baked apples — has become the stuff of family legend. But it was not always this way.
“Having lost both of their families in the Holocaust, [they] had to teach themselves, often from scratch, how to make the dishes their mothers and grandmothers made for them,” writes Karolinski in the introduction to the companion cookbook she self-published along with the film. “In doing so, they built a bridge from their past into the present, drawing on tastes and smells from a vanished world as a gift to their children and grandchildren.”
The humble bagel is a staple of Western Jewish culture, but what most of us know about it amounts to little more than a shmear. After all, bagels are generally something we buy, not bake.
This makes the bagel ideal for a hands-on workshop, especially at a restaurant-bakery called Spread Bagelry, one of the few United States outposts for what many people would call the food at its very best: the Montreal-style bagel. It’s never made by machine, boiled in honey water, and always baked in a wood-fired brick oven that’s hotter than yours.
And so last night, about 40 people drifted into Spread in downtown Philadelphia, pumped by the promise of watching the bagel-making process and even attempting to roll their own.
“We’re going to discuss them, we’re going to show you how to roll them, we’re going to show you how we boil them and then bake them. We’re not going to show you the recipe,” Larry Rosenblum told the eager onlookers as his business partner, Mark Cosgrove, stood ready to take the rings of imperfect doughy circles they’d be rolling through the process.
With a wink, Lisa Jacobs likes describing herself as “the world’s only Irish-Jewish cheesemaker.” But that unorthodox distinction is just one facet of her unlikely ascent from frustrated law student to artisan-dairy star.
In just five years, her Jacobs Creamery has gone from sneaking cheese production off-hours in a rural Oregon milk-bottling plant to churning out 600 pounds of the stuff every week — and finding fiercely loyal fans at farmers’ markets across Portland. “My first batch of cheese was Havarti, mainly because my dad liked it,” she laughed. “But I sold all of it.”
Today, her offerings include exquisite ricotta, crème fraiche, farmer’s cheese and fromage blanc, along with dairy-based puddings and panna cotta. Jacobs voice rises as she describes each variety in almost sensual detail. “My blue cheese is exceptional, and I’m not even a blue cheese fan. My crème fraiche is like a farmstead sour cream you’d find in Eastern Europe,” Jacobs said. “My butter is a European-style cultured butter that I hand-churn. And there’s a bloomy cheese that’s exceptionally smooth and creamy. Its flavor layers change as it ripens.”
When I returned to Detroit from Adamah, the Jewish Environmental Fellowship in 2008, I had only two things on my mind: food and Jews. Having grown up in the Detroit suburbs, I had never before grown my own food. Coming of age in a secular family that belonged to a large Reform congregation, I had never sung Jewish songs, and had never celebrated Shabbat. At Adamah, we sang at every opportunity, and felt the meaning of Shabbat through the grateful rest of our aching muscles. From the moment I returned to Detroit, this time to the urban center instead of the 3rd ring suburb of my youth, I wondered if there would be some way to lead a Jewish life as rich and grounded as life at Adamah had been. There were a few realities that allowed me to excuse this as an impossible dream.
First, most of Detroit’s Jewish population exited the city for the suburbs over the course of the 50s and 60s. Much of this exit was motivated by post-WWII upward mobility, demographic shifts, and consequent racial tension. Also, most Jewish communities I’ve known in my life have been defined by insularity and exceptionalism, which led to my belief that, because the city of Detroit is 85% black, any Jewish Renaissance within its boarders was more likely to result in gentrification than integration.
The Smokery sells home-cured fish from the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market in Portland, Oregon. Jacobs Creamery, a few feet away, offers hand-churned butter and limited-production cheese. Customers purchasing lox get polite nudges to buy fromage blanc; shoppers picking up cheese get friendly recommendations for cured fish.
The mutual assistance comes naturally. Michael and Rhona Jacobs run The Smokery, and their daughter Lisa, the third of their four kids, runs burgeoning Jacobs Creamery. Started as hobbies, both businesses have exploded into what may be the world’s only Irish-Jewish artisan-food dynasty.
Dublin-born, Michael Jacobs moved his family to Portland in 1993 after nine years in southern California. Despite his adopted city’s zealously homegrown food culture, stateside spins on his favorite foods couldn’t come close to what he ate in Ireland. “We’ve always eaten smoked salmon, but never liked anything we found in the U.S.,” he told the Forward in a mellow lilt. “We’d been used to lox, but here it’s too salted, too processed, too… Yuck.”
Enter: The Food Stamp Challenge.
Spearheaded by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and co-sponsored by a number of Jewish organizations and rabbinic councils from across the spectrum, the Food Stamp Challenge creates a visceral learning opportunity about that most popular and noble of Jewish values, the pursuit of justice — specifically, food justice.
Loblaw, Canada’s largest food retailer, has announced that it will only be dealing with a single kashrut supervision organization from now on when it comes to its store brands. According to a Canadian Jewish News report, the company, which operates more than 1,000 corporate and franchised supermarkets, stores and warehouse-type outlets across Canada, said that going forward, it would work only with the Kashruth Council of Canada and it’s COR designation.
Until now, Loblaws has had ten different kashrut symbols on the packaging of its brands, such as President’s Choice, No name, and Blue Menu. The plan is for the products to continue to be supervised by the same heksher-granting agencies as before (including OU, the most widely recognized kashrut designation), but to have only COR printed on their labels.
Kashruth Council spokesman Richard Rabkin said that all ten current hekshers met COR standards. If another agency wanted to certify a Loblaw store brand, the Kashruth Council would have to ascertain that it met COR standards. If it did not, that agency would be required to work with Kashruth Council to come up to COR standards, and if it did not, Loblaw would make the ultimate decision as to whether to accept the product or not.
Take a tasty tour through New York’s Holyland Market for Israeli staples from amba to za’atar. [Serious Eats]
Healthy, fall ingredients like carrots, quinoa and caraway seeds combine to re-imagine the traditional kugel four times over. [The New York Times]
Ever tried a vegan Reuben before? Locali, a “conscious convenience store” in Los Feliz, Calif., uses tofu, pickling spices and Daiya cheese for a clever, cruelty-free copy. [LA Weekly]
FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver: statistics savant, presidential pick predictor … food blogger? His Burrito Bracket blog from back in the day puts tacos from his (and President Obama’s) Chicago home in an NCAA-style bracket. [Grub Street]
In 1432 a Venetian captain, Pietro Querini, returned home after surviving a terrible shipwreck off the Northern coast of Norway, and described for the first time the stocfisi (dried salt cod) he had tasted in the remote islands where he’d been nursed back to health. His description probably went largely unnoticed at the time, given the abundance of fresh fish in the waters of the lagoon.
Baccalà (stockfish) is a particularly tough kind of dried salt cod, sold by the slab. It became such a staple in Europe in the Middle Ages that it supported the expansion of trade routes with the New World; soon it was popping up in the traditional dishes of areas as diverse as Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, West Africa, the Caribbean and Brazil.
However, it wasn’t until the 1500s that Venice becomes its main point of distribution. The Council of Trento (1555), prohibiting meat to Christians on Fridays, probably gave it a little push; so did the Spanish Portuguese Jews and conversos who settled in Venice after the expulsion, and were already accustomed to eating it. As a matter of fact, for a while it was considered (like pickled fish) a “Jewish food,” which could draw the unwelcome attention of the Inquisition.
These were some of the only words my caseworker said to me during my intake at the Illinois Department of Human Services. I could hardly hide my disgust as he revealed a smile and asked me to fork over my stack of papers. His dry, albeit offensive brand of humor was especially jarring after the nearly 2 hours I spent standing in lines and waiting to hear my name called.
I was interviewing as part of my application for food stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or “SNAP”). It had been a rough morning of long lines, crying babies, and grumpy staff (picture the DMV on a particularly bad day), but as an AmeriCorps*National Direct volunteer, I was mostly unfazed by the sluggish bureaucratic process. I spent my days running a non-profit community resource center on the North Side of Chicago where I held similar responsibilities to those of my caseworker, so I tried to empathize to his overworked, underpaid demeanor. With a brusque “You qualify,” he approved my application and sent me on my merry way. I was relieved to have a food budget.
Although carrots often play a supporting role in the culinary world, I’ve long appreciated them in their own right. As a baby I turned a subtle hue of orange from consuming so much carrot puree, and as a child I happily mimicked my favorite cartoon character, Bugs Bunny, by chomping on carrots every chance I got. Apparently the world has caught up, since a recent New York Times article declared carrots the new Brussels sprouts.
Carrots probably originated in Afghanistan from a purple variety thousands of years ago, and have been enjoyed for their culinary and medicinal purposes ever since. Today they’re more popular than ever, with the average American eating nearly 10 pounds per year, according to a USDA report on the subject.
Though they have a long history, carrots don’t appear alongside the seven species of the Old Testament, and Gil Marks points out in The Encyclopedia of Jewish Cooking that “The carrot, never mentioned in the Talmud or Midrash, was a rather late arrival to the Middle East and Jewish cookery.”
With the explosion of craft beers in the past five years, it was only a matter of time before an intrepid soul conquered the final brewery frontier: Queens, New York. Rich Buceta and the team at Single Cut brewery are opening a 5,000 square foot brewery there later this month. And the star of the Single Cut lineup? Matzoh-based beer.
“The folks at [local pub] Queens Kickshaw came up with the idea for this beer as a tribute to the Jewish tradition of eating Chinese food on Christmas Eve,” brewmaster Rich Buceta explained. The brew, which is made by mixing Szechuan peppercorns and matzoh into the malted barley mash, is dubbed a “White Lagrr,” perhaps because of the ferocious kick that the spicing will bring to it.
Aside from creating what sounds like the perfect Chanukah beer, Buceta plans a number of other yet-to-be-revealed concoctions. “We’ll be aging several beers in rum barrels, as well as brewing a number of Belgian-style ales,” he said. But the heart of the brewery lies in hoppy ales, like the Halfstack India Pale Ale that clocks in at 6.6% alcohol by volume. They plan to release a seasonal “Fullstack” IPA that’s even more alcoholic — a whopping 8.6%.
When our synagogue, Beacon Hebrew Alliance, took on a community-wide listening campaign about two years ago, food quickly emerged as an important issue. Some of us were locavores, committed to eating regionally produced food; some were Jewish traditionalists, committed to eating kosher certified food, and some of us were lapsed vegetarians, some of us were price conscious and some had yet other commitments.
In addition to the many personal commitments, our community was growing quickly, and that meant there were more and more questions and disagreements about what we could and couldn’t eat in the synagogue. Our new rabbi was confused as to why our informal policy allowed us to bring in food from the local non-kosher deli but not to have a pot-luck with food prepared in members’ homes. At one point, a new mother in our community looked at the cake and candy that was put out during one of our kids programs and said “I don’t care if it’s ‘kosher,’ I don’t want to feed that junk to my kids.” It was clear that not only did we not have a consistent food policy that reflected our values, we didn’t even have a common language which we could use to talk about food.
If you’re stuck at home today, try making your own challah. Here’s a simple recipe. [The Daily Meal]
Are you a latke expert? Ready to throw down in a huge latke competition? Enter your recipe here. [Edible Manhattan]
Deb Perlman’s mushroom bourguinon, a perfect fall, vegetarian, Shabbat dish. [Food 52]
Try an Egyptian twist on falafel — made with fava beans. [Saveur]
A taste of the American South comes to Tel Aviv. [Tablet]
The largest whisky event of the year took place last weekend at the Marriott Marquis. Stretching from sundown Friday to a later Saturday night, WhiskyFest NY was attended by hundreds of aficionados of the pungent malt. Sadly, I couldn’t make it this year, but I managed to stop by the first so-called “Whisky Jewbilee” run by Single Cask Nation just before the weekend.
Single Cask Nation is an attempt to turn a hobby into a business. Joshua Hatton, Jason Johnstone-Yellin and Seth Klaskin took what began as a blog and the Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society and turned it into a niche bottler and importer of whisky. Though I was interested to see (and taste) what the hosts had found to put in their bottles, my expectations were fairly low. The location was a synagogue hall on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, I didn’t recognize the names of many of the whiskies being poured and the price seemed high at $75 (though, full disclosure, members of the press were not charged).
Being an African-American who is a Jew-By-Choice means having to do a lot of culinary negotiations. The table is where I integrate both sides of my hyphen. The plate is a means of “locating” myself squarely in the history of both Diasporas — African and Jewish, and all the places those Diaspora’s represent from Angola and Alabama to Ashkenaz, from South Carolina and Senegal to Sepharad. Cooking is how I pull all of my parts together and articulate who I am to those who might not understand how someone like me could be culturally “possible.” Shabbat gives me an opportunity to look within and use my cooking to tell stories that friends of all backgrounds have never heard — stories of history and migration, struggle and triumph, loss and recovery.
I often serve this West African Style Brisket on Shabbat, which is inspired by recipes from Nigeria, Senegal, Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. The dry spice mixture is a take on suya, a very old spice mixture from West Africa, hearkening back to the days of the medieval salt and gold trade. Certain flavors like garlic, ginger, bay leaf, and onion are common in both culinary traditions; while others like the inclusion of peppers, olive oil, horseradish, and the use of stock, point to different stops on the map as each Diaspora wound its way to North America.