Photograph by Edsel Little; Flickr
When I first gravitated toward writing about food and immigration to the United States as an ostensibly serious academic, colleagues asked me — and, frankly, I asked myself — the obvious question. Why food? Food perhaps lacked the gravitas and significance of subjects like political, labor or immigration history. Academics might grudgingly admit that food is fun, or, at worst, accuse me of having gone over to the realm of the “popularizers.”
Food does indeed provide one of life’s greatest pleasures. And yet, for much of human history food also has been associated with difficulty, controversy, confusion, and conflict. Most people, for most of life on Earth, have fretted over where, or if, they would get their next meal. But the matter of food, and particularly food’s relationship to immigration, has long merited more ambitious historical treatment. Food has always functioned simultaneously as a barrier that sets one group of people apart from others and as a bridge linking people with little else in common.
For the past three years, Jesse Friedman and Laura Hadden have been on a quest to explore world cuisine from their modest kitchen in Brooklyn. The married couple is the force behind United Noshes, a project to throw a dinner party featuring the culinary offerings of each of the 193 member states and 2 permanently observing non-members of the United Nations, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
Every month, Hadden and Friedman research recipes, gather ingredients, and prepare two to three feasts to represent the selected countries, going in roughly alphabetical order. Friedman does much of the cooking while Hadden documents the feast and entertains the guests. When possible, they solicit help from people familiar with a country’s culture and good.
It’s a project that stretches Friedman and Hadden’s taste buds and cooking prowess, but it also has another added benefit: Forming a loose community of people who love culinary experimentation. Old friends and new ones join the parties, as well as foodies who find out about the project and sign up for the newsletter. The price of admission is a donation to the World Food Program, a humanitarian organization fighting world hunger. Some 500 people have signed up for the newsletter, and Friedman and Hadden have thrown United Noshes events in Boston, D.C., Seattle, and the Bay Area, as well. At Friedman and Hadden’s 83rd party, a celebration of Israeli and Palestinian cuisine, the guests included a handful of writers, a ballet dancer, and an analytics expert, all there to sample offerings that included lamb kebabs, homemade hummus, and rugelach.
“We hit upon the idea because it combined two things we’re interested in,” Friedman said. “Exploring international dishes and meeting new people. We’ve met hundreds of people who are adventurous enough to try what we’re cooking. In New York, people tend not to visit each other in their homes. We wanted to open ours up.”
The first time I admitted to myself that I had an eating disorder was after watching a film describing eating disorders and the Jewish Community called “Hungry to be Heard.”
Until that point I was lost. I became a shadow, a nothing person who craved solitude and lived by counting. It had been 4 months since my official diagnosis with Anorexia and my life had become a series of doctor appointments, forced meals, and nights alone in my room. I had once been a vibrant, confident young woman and soon became a shell, slowly chipping away.
In the onset of my illness I did not believe that I had a problem. Even through nights of fearing for my heart, I did not believe that the behaviors I was using would ever result in harm. Why would I when I had a menacing voice in my head, ebbing me to continue restricting and isolating, reassuring me that I was invincible. Over the months it became evident that there was a problem, but I could not connect to it. The first time I was able to truly acknowledge my eating disorder was in the light of seeing that I was not alone.
I recently conducted some research to explore how Jews define their own cultural identity through food. I analyzed interviews done in Europe -mainly in Germany- and in America -mainly Chile- and the results were somehow surprising.
Both samples were very similar: mainly middle age, secular, and Ashkenazi women. Their answers were also relatively close in both groups: both care a lot about the cultural importance of food, and not so much about the healthy aspects of it. So the quantitative analysis did not come out with big surprises, except that the European Jewry is clearly more observant in terms of respecting kashrut than their American relatives. But looking at the results of the qualitative analysis, the differences were striking.
My most pungent memories of annual childhood trips to Miami Beach involve food. There were free bowls of pickles at Rascal House, matzo ball soup at Pumpernik’s, danish at Wolfie’s.
But as a new exhibition at the Jewish Museum of Florida – FIU reveals, there’s much more to Jewish food in the Sunshine State than deli. As its title implies, Growers, Grocers & Gefilte Fish: A Gastronomic Look at Florida Jews & Food highlights key roles Jews have played in Florida’s food industries, from citrus groves to farms to canneries.
Among the highlights at the meticulously curated show: A full size replica of a revolutionary rolling chicken coop invented by a Jewish farmer; a giant soft-sculpture bagel, encrusted with 32,000 Swarovski crystals, by Coral Springs artist Jonathan Stein; and a recreation of Wolfie’s legendary lunch counter, complete with stools and menus.
The Forward spoke with Jo Ann Arnowitz, the museum’s executive director and chief curator, about the show’s tasty offerings.
When Tim Horel was in his mid-30s, he tripped over his shoelaces and wound up shattering both of his elbows.
“It was way too early for him to be breaking bones like that,” Lisa Stander-Horel, Tim’s wife, told JTA.
The cause for Tim’s weakened bones turned out to be celiac disease, a condition in which the protein found in wheat, rye and other grains provokes an immune response that can damage the small intestine and lead to other health problems.
When the Horels cut gluten from their diet, Stander-Horel found that health problems she had long faced — such as rashes and migraines — disappeared as well.
There is no cure for celiac, which can prevent the body from absorbing needed nutrients and lead to osteoporosis, fatigue and even intestinal cancer. But strict adherence to a gluten-free diet can alleviate most symptoms and provide a chance for the small intestine to heal.
As awareness of the disease has grown, a plethora of dietary options have cropped up. A walk down the aisles of a grocery store finds gluten-free varieties of everything from Rice Krispies to kaiser rolls.
But for kosher keepers and those who just enjoy the pleasures of Jewish foods, adhering to a gluten-free diet can be a challenge. Jewish foods such as kugel, matzah balls and challah are rich in gluten. In fact, wheat and barley are two of the seven species mentioned in Deuteronomy.
To help bring traditional Jewish cooking to the gluten-free, the Horels published “Nosh on This: Gluten-Free Baking from a Jewish American Kitchen,” which was released in September. The book took 10 years to produce — a process Stander-Horel says was “mostly trial and error.”
Stander-Horel has been a passionate baker from an early age and wanted to reproduce all the recipes she remembered from childhood — a policy she calls “No recipe left behind.” In general, Stander-Horel advises gluten-free cooks to carefully examine the ingredients of all purchases and avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen.
Jewish cooks also can take advantage of products already designed to cater to ritual culinary needs. Faye Levy, author of “Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home,” told JTA that many Passover products can be repurposed for gluten-free cooking.
“Products that cater to those that don’t eat gebrokts — moistened matzah meal — often use potato or rice flour,” Levy said. “You can use Passover noodles in soups or for kugel, and it turns out really well.”
Chickpea flour, a traditional ingredient in the Indian kitchen, also works well in savory dishes like latkes and kugels, according to Levy.
For the Horels, finding gluten-free foods was difficult in the years following Tim’s diagnosis.
“The only flour available when we started was one, rice flour,” said Stander-Horel. “A lot of things were only available in Canada, and we had to learn to order things from far, far away.”
But Bonnie Gillert, a nutritionist and author of “Passover the Healthy Way,” says there are now many new gluten-free products on the market, making a gluten free diet radically easier than it used to be.
“With my celiac patients, I work on their mindset,” Gillert said. “They often begin feeling that they’re deprived, that this is a life sentence. Well, it’s something they have to consider for a lifetime, but being gluten free is no obstacle to a healthy, vibrant life.”
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 posted three more last week here with permission from the magazine. We want to hear what you think. Share your thoughts in the comments.
Jewish dietary practice, which we call kashrut, is the original practice of mindful eating. Kashrut isn’t about what you can and cannot eat; to me, it posits the individual in a holistic network of life and death. It says we do not own the earth, nor its creatures; we cannot have what we want whenever we want. Certainly what we put in our mouths says a lot about what we value as Jews and as human beings. There has always been a special relationship between Jews and food, not just emotionally, but with laws and rituals that govern every aspect of food: from how we sow the earth, how we harvest, how we slaughter animals, how we prepare food and the blessings we say before and after meals. The interesting thing to me is that in America today, kosher food is widely seen not just as part and parcel of an Orthodox lifestyle, but among many liberal or secular Jews as a mark of membership in the tribe, a public pronouncement of their Jewish identity.
Sue Fishkoff is editor of j., the Jewish news weekly of Northern California, and author of Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority.
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.
There is no way you can practice Judaism religiously or culturally without food. Food has been intrinsic to Jewish ritual, life and culture from the outset. What is the very first act that the Israelites in Egypt are commanded to do? It’s to have a communal meal—roast lamb and herbs, some nice shwarma. And with that, the beginning of the Jewish people is through a meal. The famous joke—“They tried to kill us, we won, now let’s eat”—is not really that far from the truth. Within the Jewish legal framework is an understanding that various rituals are accompanied by a seudat mitzvah, or celebratory meal, whether a bris or a baby naming or a bar mitzvah or a wedding. Any sort of life cycle event is accompanied by a seudat mitzvah. Some foods are almost sanctified by their use in these meals or holidays and rituals. So food that may have not been Jewish at one point can become Jewish. Chicken soup, for example, became very popular after a meat shortage after the Black Death, leading Europe to become a chicken-raising culture. Simultaneously, Italian Jews introduced noodles to the Franco-German Jews, and chicken soup with frimzel, or egg noodles, became standard. But then what do you do on Pesach when you can’t have egg noodles—the matzoh ball or knaidel emerges. You can see the continuing adaptation that created the cultural Jewish gastronomy.
Gil Marks is a rabbi, author of Encyclopedia of Jewish Food and founding editor of Kosher Gourmet magazine.
Gaza residents craving KFC can order delivery, but with the meals smuggled by underground tunnel, it’s not exactly fast food. [The New York Times]
Lawmakers in Poland may lift a recent ban on kosher slaughter. [Times of Israel]
A Cambridge microbrewery is honoring Sean Collier, the MIT police officer allegedly killed by the Boston bombing suspects, with a new beer. [The Boston Globe]
A new deli in Atlanta, The General Muir, is bringing New York tastes to the South. [Business Insider]
Recipes for apricot-almond coffee cake, strawberry focaccia and spanakopita pie show that your oven loves spring produce, too. [Huffington Post]
“I beg to differ…what you have made is NOT a kugel.”
This is the opening line to a comment by Jezzie in Scottsdale, AZ in a recent New York Times article, named “Kugel Challenge.” What started out as simple question to replicate a quinoa kugel featured at a dinner has turned into one of the greatest comment battles about Jewish food in a while (read: since the annual High Holiday brisket and matzo ball soup discussions).
Martha Rose Shulman, of the “Recipes for Health” column of the Times offered five recipes for healthy, alternative grain kugels for this wary reader. Naturally, “healthy” and “alternative grains” have struck some serious cords within the Jewish (or otherwise) kugel-consuming communities out there.
Ding Dongs hold a special place in my heart. My best friend growing up in Canada was an American. Whenever her family would travel to New York they would bring numerous boxes of Ring Dings back with them and keep them in the freezer. Sure, there were lots of similar sandwich cakes in the great white north, but none had a hechsher. If we were particularly well behaved, we would be allowed to take one from the coveted stash. The memory of the feeling of the frozen squishy cake and its filling, still brings a smile to my face.
With the announcement of the closure of the Hostess brand, the memories of Ring Dings resurfaced. I found myself mulling the loss of an item I have not eaten since before my bat mitzvah. The public discussion of the closure of the Hostess plants centers around the financial challenges the company faced as it sought to restructure. But even without the current financial downturn, the snack cakes may be part of the shifting American foodways.
Only in Brooklyn: Jami Attenberg, author of the critically-acclaimed and food-heavy novel “The Middlesteins,” makes pickles with Jeffrey Yoskowitz of the Gefilteria, a “boutique purveyor of Old World Jewish foods” [Vol. 1 Brooklyn]
A lively profile of “Tel Aviv’s favorite foodie” Gil Hovav, who makes his English cookbook debut writing as the devout (and imaginary!) orthodox woman Rebbetzin G. H. Halperin [Haaretz]
The humble bagel-and-schmear gets an explosive, dub-steppy twist in a homemade commercial for Brooklyn’s Bagelteria [Grub Street]
A beautiful and colorful vegetarian Thanksgiving table with golden beet salad, buckwheat-squash tart, and a fall greens sauté from the couple behind Sprouted Kitchen [NYTimes Well Blog]
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.
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.”
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.”
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.