The post originally appeared on What Is Your Food Worth.
I am not a hoarder. I am constantly trying to simplify, to reduce my house of the “stuff” that has accumulated over my many moves. But the one thing that I keep adding to is my cookbook collection. On a recent trip to Las Vegas, I found myself in the most amazing used bookstore, Amber Unicorn. Lest you think I just happened upon this hidden gem in a Nevada strip mall, the credit for the find goes to Ruth Reichl who raved about it in a Saveur Magazine piece back in April. My mother and sisters were generous enough to give me a few minutes on our way to check into Wild Bill’s Gambling Hall and Saloon. I could have spent days there just methodically going through the rows and rows of cookbooks. The Jewish section was extensive and I immediately reached for the community cookbooks, with their spiral bindings. One volume, which I had to take home with me, was called “Centennial Celebration Cookbook: 100 Years of Jewish Cooking in the Ozarks.” Ozarks!! Some of these cookbooks I use, some I just love. This is a list of Jewish cookbooks I love to use.
Here are my five favorite Jewish cookbooks (in no particular order).
The truth about brisket is that your bubbe’s is probably the best. It’s probably better than my bubbe’s, and better than your neighbor’s bubbe’s, and while no two brisket recipes are the same, we’re all right when we say our briskets are the best. Past that, there aren’t a whole lot of definitives — even the terminology can get a little shady — which is exactly why putting five brisket aficionados on stage to talk about the comfort meat was more than fascinating.
At Tuesday night’s panel discussion at the Center for Jewish History led by Mitchell David, Executive Vice President of the James Beard Foundation, and organized by culinary curator Naama Shefi, so much was revealed about the dish that no Jewish feast is complete without.
Like many popular Jewish foods, brisket worked its way into the cuisine because of its low cost. “Brisket is implicitly kosher since it’s from the front of the animal,” said New York Times reporter Julia Moskin, “and it was cheap because anything that takes a long time to cook and that can’t be grilled has challenges, especially in a restaurant.” Davis added that while the ribs are also from the front of the animal, their popularity in Jewish cuisine didn’t quite reach that of brisket’s because they could be sold for more money. Daniel Delaney, owner of the barely month-old BrisketTown, in Williamsburg, attested that this was the case in the Texas culture as well, where butchers who emigrated from Germany and Czechoslovakia had trouble selling the slow-cooking cut of meat and ultimately created a way to dry smoke it and preserve it.
If Jewish chefs were rock stars, then the weekend of October 12-14 would be their Lollapalooza, a veritable festival of culinary treats and talk. As part of the NYC Food and Wine Festival, Noah and Rae Bernamoff, the minds behind the Montreal-style deli Mile End, are co-hosting a nine-course Shabbat dinner, complete with bone marrow matzoh balls, deconstructed babka, and braised lamb brisket from many of the top Jewish restaurants across the country. (As the website remind eaters, those with dietary restrictions need not apply.)
And in case you don’t get enough talk about gefilte fish and brisket there, the following day ABC Home, in conjunction with Tablet Magazine and Mile End, will host a Future of Jewish Food panel that will leave you drooling. “Top Chef” judge Gail Simmons tops the list, joined by James Beard Foundation Vice President Mitchell Davis and Time Out Food and Drink Editor Jordana Rothman. Panel moderator Joan Nathan will lead the discussion about Jewish food in the home, followed by a conversation with some of the country’s top deli men, including Wise Son’s Evan Bloom and Peter Levitt from Berkeley’s Saul’s Delicatessen. But after the talking comes the best part: House-made pastrami from each of the featured delis.
When you edit stories about Jewish food everyday — whether they’re about food carts, bagels or hummus (next week we’ll dedicate the entire week to the dip) — you sometimes get so caught up in the details that you forget to step back and look at this rich cultural world you cover.
Yesterday, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to contemplate the big picture of Jewish food with one of the most passionate Jewish foodies I know — James Beard Foundation VP and cookbook author Mitchell Davis.
Each week Davis hosts a radio show called Taste Matters on the food radio station Heritage Radio Network. And yesterday, the taste that mattered was decidedly Jewish. Check out my conversation with Davis to gain perspective on the world of Jewish food, hear what the Forward has in store for Rosh Hashanah and learn how to update holiday dinners without ditching your grandmother’s brisket recipe.
Click here to listen to the podcast.
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.
In reality, when five of the major thinkers in Jewish food gathered to speak at the Roger Smith Hotel Cookbook Conference’s panel “Eat and Be Satisfied: Jewish Cookbooks, Past Present and Future” last Friday the situation wasn’t terribly different from what I had imagined — minus the smorgasbord and aprons. Cookbook authors Gil Marks and Joan Nathan were joined by historian Jenna Weissman Joselit and James Beard Foundation VP, Mitchell Davis for a series of mini-lectures moderated by food historian and writer Cara De Silva.
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