November 14 is Aaron Copland’s birthday. It’s the day that Chicago Bears’ quarterback Sid Luckman passed for seven touchdowns to help defeat the New York Giants 56 to 7 in 1943. And it’s the day Ivan Boesky confessed to illegal market activity in 1986.
But for readers of The Jew and the Carrot, November 14 has even greater significance: It’s National Pickle Day.
Pickles, of course, aren’t exclusively Jewish. They date back thousands of years, appearing as far as India and Egypt. But over the centuries, pickles became a staple food for Ashkenazi Jews. Pickled vegetables were a dietary staple for Jews living in the Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Russia, as Claudia Roden explains in “The Book of Jewish Food”: “The sharp flavor of pickles proved a welcome addition to the bland bread-and-potato diet of these cold-weather countries.”
In honor of National Pickle Day, we’ve been marinating some fun facts about our favorite fermented food. Photo: Thinkstock.
1) Cucumbers are mentioned twice in the Bible (Numbers 11:5 and Isaiah 1:8) and history sets their first usage over 3,000 years ago in western Asia, Egypt and Greece. (Source: NY Food Museum)
2) Americans consume more than 2.5 billion pounds of pickles each year; the North American pickle industry is valued at about $1.5 billion annually, according to Pickle Packers, a trade group. (Source: Pickle Packers)
For some American tourists, the first encounter with an Israeli pickle provokes quite a surprise. While the mild and crunchy kosher dill pickle is popular in the American Jewish and non-Jewish cuisine, it does not prepare you for its strong-flavored, spicy Israeli brother.
Jews in both countries rejoice in their pickles. One is served with any deli sandwiches or hamburgers around the country, and the other can be found in any falafel stand or as a part of a meze table.
But what a difference between the two.
“I know what you’re going to write,” says my husband, while munching on a spicy pickle I made a couple of weeks earlier. “You’re going to say the Israeli ones are much better.” He is still longing for his late grandmother’s Hungarian quick pickles, ready in an hour and basically raw. She used to make hers by slicing the cucumbers very thinly, mixing with salt and letting them stand in a colander to get their liquid out. Then she would mix it with sliced onion, vinegar, sugar and salt and a little water, let it stand for an hour and serve. A very refreshing version.
Yes, I do prefer the Israeli spicy pickles I grew up with, but in the years I’ve been living in America I gradually learned to appreciate dill pickles. You can see why I was surprised to learn both are pickled in almost same brine: water, salt, fresh dill, garlic cloves and hot peppers. Some add spices like black peppercorn, coriander seeds, fennel seeds and others, some add a little vinegar to top the pickle jar, but the basics are the same, and it’s no wonder. This brine is the same one that was used in Eastern Europe for the last hundreds of years. The results, however, are very different.
Read more at Haaretz.com.
How do you make the world’s tallest kosher sandwich? The Jewish community in Budapest decided it was high time to find out.
When Andras Borgula started planning the Budapest’s sixth annual Judafest, a cultural street fair celebrating Jewish life in Hungary held June 9, he had an ambitious thought: Why not set some kind of Jewish record?
Borgula, 38, founder and director of the Jewish Golem Theatre and artistic director for the festival, said the idea came to him as he tried to come up with something that would be both Jewish — and Hungarian.
“There isn’t so much Hungarian Talmud or Torah,” he said. “But we’re pretty strong in the kitchen. We like to eat, and we like to cook. So, why not a kosher sandwich?”
Borgula’s dream was almost cut short when he found out that the Guiness World Records did not have a category for unusually tall kosher fare. After much pestering and pleading, the world’s arbiter of unusual and outrageous things agreed to create a special category, with the requirement that the oversized lunch be at least two meters (almost 7 feet) tall.
And so, as the 7,000 attendees of Judafest (put on by the Budapest chapter of the American Joint Distribution Committee) crowded into Kazinczy Street in Budapest’s Jewish Quarter this week, Borgula and 25 volunteers were preparing over 400 sandwiches, to be stacked one on top of each other as “one big club sandwich.”
Sadly, they fell just short of the world-record setting goal, running out of bread just as the sandwich reached 1.9 meters.
But, “even if we had more,” Borgula said, “the tower was start[ing] to fall apart.”
Despite the setback, Borgula, who positioned the individual slices of white bread, kosher turkey, hummus and pickles himself, is proud of his community’s achievement. “It’s not an official record, but still, this is an unofficial tallest kosher sandwich of the world, built by myself, and I’m not an engineer,” he said.
So, what to do with such a masterpiece? Borgula thought of that too. With record-level flooding threatening Budapest, volunteers were put to work to fortify the banks of the Danube. Rather than letting the hundreds of sandwiches go to waste, Borgula and other festival-dwellers carried them down to the river and served them to people working to fight the rising tide.
“I think most of the people never heard about Jews, and never tasted kosher [food] in their entire life,” Borgula said. “They were pretty amazed by this.”
If you’re an American Jew, there’s a pretty good chance that somewhere, somehow, someone in your family made dinner on the Lower East Side.
Though the area has been home to a countless nationalities and ethnic groups, it holds a special place in the hearts of American Jews, many of whom can trace their first foothold in the country back to “the old neighborhood.”
On June 5, the Tenement Museum celebrated its 25th anniversary, and the 150th anniversary of the restored building at 97 Orchard Street, which housed over 7,000 people from more than 20 countries from 1863 to 1935.
As a tribute to the many sights and smells imprinted into the tenement’s walls, the gala was set up as an edible timeline, a “taste of the tenements,” catered by current local vendors and restaurants and inspired by the neighborhood’s residents. Here’s a window into what they would have been eating, and where you can find those treats today.
I still have the first cookbook I ever purchased: “Good Food for Bad Stomachs,” published in 1951. I bought it sometime in the 1980s at a neighbor’s yard sale; I was a weird kid who hung out at the antique malls grew up getting stomach aches from milk, so it the purchase was a no-brainer. The first thing I made from that book was rice pudding, something you couldn’t find in Knoxville, Tenn. but I just knew I’d love.
Years later, when I was in college, my paternal grandmother gifted me “The Vegetarian Epicure,” which has been used so much that the yellowed pages and worn spine are nearly split through. I am grateful that grandma also gave me a true love of cooking, gardening, and Cuisinart attachments.
In America, the traditional culinary practice of pickling and preserving foods has enjoyed a recent revival in restaurants and home kitchens alike. Now in England, Chef Jason Freedman at The Minnis — a farm (and sea) to table restaurant about an hour-and-a-half east of London in Birchington — is helping to re-introduce the joys of fermentation across the pond.
A 27-year veteran of professional kitchens, Freedman only recently started experimenting with fermenting and pickling foods. Luckily for diners, he quickly “caught the bug,” turning The Minnis’ menu into a playground of preservation — think: herring pickled with bay leaves and nutmeg, or cold smoked salmon served with horseradish aioli. Chef Freedman took some time to speak with The Jew & The Carrot about why pickles piqued his interest, his brand new smoker, and how he gets his regular fix of Jewish cooking.
For more on pickles and preserves, check out Leah Koenig’s article on Jewish pickling traditions from around the globe.
I grew up eating pickles. Every few months, my uncle would send me a half gallon of “Uncle Phil’s Dills” — a delicious, salty, garlicky, creation of his own full-dill pickles, and I would eat the entire jar on my own. As I’ve grown up, my love of pickles has never ceased; I love new-dill pickles, fried pickles, even dill pickle chips (McClure’s makes a great chip). In college, I spent a semester in Spain and spent a majority of my free time eating olives and people watching. Now that I’m living in New York City for the summer, I’m on a quest to find the best pickle in the world.
Jews have a history with pickling. My grandfather, who grew up here in the 1930’s, tells me stories about the pickle-sellers on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the Jewish areas of Brooklyn. Hearing him talk about the barrels full of brine water, garlic, salt, dill, and other spices, I imagine it was a pickle-lovers dream. There were the traditional pickled cucumbers, of course, but there were also pickled green beans, tomatoes, and cabbage — there were even pickled apples and watermelons! Pickling was an affordable and convenient way of preserving vegetables without refrigeration for many Jewish and Eastern European immigrants. Many Jewish school children would often spend their pocket money on pickles and candy. Despite their pervasiveness in society, however, not everyone loved the pickle, and one author even went so far as to call it “a seething mass of rottenness.”
If you’re never braided a round challah, it can be a bit tricky. Here’s a video to help. Haaretz
The tweet that shocked the food world this week: “I’m stepping down as restaurant critic to be the national editor of The Times. #checkplease. @Samsifton
A New York Whole Foods store opened a mini in-store pickle shop this week, carrying a wide variety of artisanal pickles. Grubstreet
Empire Kosher Poultry, the largest kosher chicken company in the country, claims “it produces a healthier, cleaner, more reliably kosher chicken than available anywhere else in America — and in a socially and environmentally responsible way,” according to JTA.
Multi-colored Carrots are coming to farmers’ markets this month! Yes, we have a soft spot for our namesake veggie.
A deli plate would be naked without a pickle, but the preserved cucumber wasn’t always so beloved. Jane Ziegelman writes that the pickle was once viewed as a stimulant and consumption was frowned upon.
The title of Mark Bittman’s Opinionator piece this week, “Can Big Food Regulate Itself? Fat Chance,” says it all.
As you know, we at JCarrot love pickles (try our quick summer pickle recipes here). Serious Eats shares some creative ways to use leftover pickle juice. They also conduct a jarred pickle taste test. See which pickle is the winner.
In this week’s New York Times dining section, Julia Moskin writes about how to use commonly discarded parts of vegetables. The Perennial Plate conveniently shares a recipe and video of how to make carrot top pesto.
Jon-Jon Goulian, author of “The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt,” makes rugelach pinwheels on Cooking the Books.
Unlike Rachel Ray (whom I happen to enjoy watching), I am perversely attracted to drawn out, labor-intensive kitchen projects. Case in point: I will happily put aside a few hours to stretch my own strudel dough. I also bake bagels, a process that involves simmering the raw bagels in a water bath laced with malt barley syrup before they go into the oven. As a matter of principle, I stay away from sauces in jars and other convenience foods like boxed muffin mix which violate my sense of culinary fair play and generally taste lousy. But my kitchen principles, like the rest of my life, are shot through with contradictions.
I like to keep a canister of Reddi Wip whipped cream on hand for that impromptu root beer float. I believe that Hellman’s has perfected mayonnaise and I actually prefer it over freshly made. I enjoy a bowl of cold cereal for dinner.
“Quick pickles,” though not exactly a convenience food, employ a variety of time-saving techniques geared toward the impatient cook. Classic kosher dills, for example, can take weeks to mature. Like a fine glass of lager, they rely on fermentation, a biological process carried out by friendly micro-organisms. Different organisms of course are used in different types of fermentation. In beer making, for instance, brewer’s yeast convert sugar into alcohol. The kosher dill, by contrast, is indebted to a strain of lactic-acid-producing bacteria, hence the term lacto-fermentation. Like the alcohol in beer, the lactic acid acts as a preservative. At the same time, it imparts that distinctive bacterial tang found in all fermented foods from sauerkraut to kimchi.
What in years past could be featured at a Passover Seder as the first vegetables of the spring — curly fiddlehead ferns and baby leek-like ramps — have yet to sprout in the Midwest this year. According to my local farmers market in St. Louis, everything’s coming up a bit late this year, including ramps. But the delightfully flavorful and delicate vegetables are showing up in east coast farmers markets and restaurants and will soon be available across the country.
Ramps, or allium tricoccum, go by many names — ramson, wild leek, wild garlic, rich woods leek, and the list goes on. They are generally grown and harvested in the wild, however, they are also cultivated by some farms, and carried by my local Whole Foods and other specialty markets. It’s possible that you’ll receive a nice bundle of ramps in one of your early CSA shares, so I wanted to share some tips as you discover them.
David’s Brisket House in Brooklyn sounds like your archetypal New York Jewish deli. Its website features a nearly pornographic shot of luscious pastrami on rye with sliced pickles. It’s got a Crown Heights address for serious street cred. And it even closes Friday for religious observances.
Except the observances are Muslim prayers. And the owners of David’s, as the Village Voice reported recently in a starred review, are named Sultan and Waleed.