Several years ago, while on a walk with his dog, John Lankenau came across a tombstone leaning against a fire hydrant on Manhattan’s East Fourth Street. Most of the writing on the tombstone was in Hebrew, but not the name: Hinda Amchanitzky.
Lankenau rescued the tombstone from the sidewalk and went looking for answers: Who was this woman? Where was she actually buried? With the help of a genealogist, New York Times reporter, and New York City’s commissioner of records, the facts emerged. Remarkably, Amchanitzky was the author of the first Yiddish cookbook published in America. A copy of her book is archived in the Library of Congress.
The tombstone was reunited with its proper grave in Staten Island in 2011, over 100 years after Amchanitzky died. Though the peculiar circumstances surrounding her misplaced gravestone made modern headlines, Amchanitzky was certainly no wallflower in her lifetime.
“She was something of a mover and a shaker,” said Jane Ziegelman, a food historian and author of “97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement.”
Ziegelman’s sense that Amchanitzky was likely a “local East Side celebrity” stems from the fact that Jewish women living on the Lower East Side at the turn of the century had essentially one place to look for new recipes: Amchanitzky’s “Manual of How To Cook and Bake,” which she self-published in 1901.
Before we get to the food (and believe us, we’ll get to the food), we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out how much of a rock star Newark mayor Cory Booker was at the seventh annual Man-O-Manischewitz Kosher Cook-Off on Thursday.
After posing with star-struck guests, Booker took the stage to praise Manischewitz for moving its headquarters to Newark, congratulate the finalists and practice his Yiddish. He described his feelings at the event as “nachas” and added that, as mayor, his ribbon cutting skills have gotten so strong he “could be a mohel.”
At the end of his speech, which was peppered with applause, Booker said, “Baruch Hashem for Manischewitz,” and finally, “Yasher Koach.”
Okay, now back to the food competition at hand. The event — held for the first time at the plant, where just next door, the year’s last batch of Passover matzos were being completed — brought together five finalists, whose recipes were chosen from thousands of entries.
Manischewitz’s marketing staff, along with research and development specialists, had the task of culling through the entries. “We’re always looking for something different,” said Alain Bankier, co-CEO of Manischewitz. “We’re not interested in your mom’s brisket.”
Editor’s Note: The Beet-Eating Heeb is the nom de plume of Jeffrey Cohan, a former journalist in Forest Hills, PA. He also blogs about Judaism and veganism on his own website.
Somewhere in the higher realms, Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer is observing his 110th birthday today.
And it would be a pity if his birthday went unnoticed at The Jew and the Carrot, a space dedicated to discussions of Jewish eating.
After all, Singer, the greatest Yiddish writer, had something to say about food, to put it mildly. He wrote vividly about the ethical imperative of vegetarianism in both “The Slaughterer” and “The Letter Writer,” two of his classic short stories.
So his 110th birthday provides an occasion – maybe even an appropriate one – to briefly re-examine those two stories from the perspective of our contemporary food system.
Krakow’s old Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, is famous (or notorious, depending on how you look at it) for its Jewish-themed tourist infrastructure. Its “Jewish” cafes present a nostalgic literary image of prewar Jewish life — some with taste and sensitivity, others in a disturbingly kitschy manner.
At least a dozen (and maybe more) cafes, restaurants, hotels and other establishments, which are mainly geared toward tourists, make reference to Kazimierz’s Jewish character. In general, furnishings and decor evoke a certain Old World shtetl chic with dark wood, old books, candlesticks, lace doilies, mismatched old furniture, and old (or faux-old) paintings of genre scenes and portraits of rabbis. They spell “Jewish” locally in the same way that dragons and red lanterns spell “Chinese” and that checkered table cloths with Chianti flasks signified “Italian” culture.
Like a number of young American Jews involved in the “food movement,” a group of about 10 people will gather this summer at an organic farm. They’ll harvest the farm’s bounty, participate in cooking classes, study Jewish texts and form an intentional community. But this group will do it all in Yiddish.
The program called Yiddish Farm, started by Naftali Ejdelman and Yisroel Bass, will launch its pilot summer program in late July at Kayam Farm outside Baltimore. Next year they will move the operation to a farm they have rented outside of New York City, where they hope to ultimately create a “Yiddish speaking pluralistic community there all year round,” says Ejdelman. We sat down with Ejdelman to find out their plans, a bit about the roots of Yiddish farming (there’s more than you might expect!) and what they will be growing on their farm.