Traditional & Contemporary Cooking
Two Generations of Jewish Women Share Traditional and Contemporary Recipes in Mother and Daughter Jewish Cooking Along with luscious recipes, Evelyn Rose and Judi Rose recapture the rich heritage of the Jewish dining table.
Evelyn still remembers fondly hearing how her Lithuanian great-grandmother, Pesha Mendelsohn, made the cream cheese to sell in her great-grandparents' little dairy in the heart of the Jewish immigrant district. In those days before pasteurization, when milk soured easily, Pesha would set a large bowl of it on top of the coal-fired kitchen range. When it had separated into curds and whey, she would hang it to drain on the washing line in a snowy white pillowcase, until it was time to take it down and stir in the smetana (sour cream).
Judi recalls that each summer the family roamed Europe and the Mediterranean, seeking out new tastes and new culinary temptations. No matter where they traveled, Evelyn tracked down the Jewish connection—be it in a hill town in Provence, the medieval heart of Sarajevo, or a suburb of Istanbul—finding the local characters and persuading them to share their cherished family recipes.
Jewish cooks have had a long time to practice soup-making—about 5,000 years. Ever since that fateful occasion when Jacob persuaded his brother Esau to part with his birthright for a tasty "mess of pottage," soup has been a vibrant part of the Jewish heritage. Jacob's recipe hasn't survived the ensuing millennia, but archaeological evidence suggests it was probably made with lentils, still a key ingredient in Jewish soups. In fact, soups may be the greatest and most enduring contribution Jewish cooks have made to international cuisine, be it for flavor, economy, or nutrition—Jewish soups are particularly nutritious, thanks to their high proportion of dietary fiber and vegetable protein.
Evelyn says that whenever she makes a pot of soup with lentils, two memories come to mind. One is of a field of women in a remote part of southern Turkey, using primitive wooden hand tools to break up the stony soil, ready for the next season's crop of lentils. The other memory is of a display in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of some of the foods discovered in an ancient archeological dig. There among the pistachio shells and the sesame and date seeds was a little heap of lentils, irreflutable evidence that the lentil is one of the oldest of food crops still eaten today. And at the start of the twenty first century, the Turkish women are still using the same methods of cultivation that were used in Israel 5,000 years ago.
It is said that chopped liver was invented by the Jewish poultry dealers of Alsace, using goose livers. Certainly when it is processed to a smooth pâté, it has a texture very similar to pâté de foie gras—but with hard-cooked eggs and rendered chicken fat replacing the butter of the original. Before the days of the food processor, or even the grinder, chopped liver, or gehakte leber, was made using a one-handed chopping blade called a hackmesser.
One of Evelyn's early memories is of Auntie Mary cutting the lokehen (the word is derived from the Turkish word for noodles) for the Shabbat meals. Her knife-wielding hand moved so surely and swiftly that it appeared as no more than a blur to a child's eye. Then Auntie Mary would hang the fine ribbons over a wooden clothes-drying rack draped with dishcloths, to dry, ready to be put into the chicken soup or made into savory or sweet lokehen kugel. This was a chore done each week in every Ashkenazi Jewish household until the advent of factory-made packaged lokshen.
Because in the Orthodox Jewish community only the forequarter cuts of beef are available, traditional recipes tend to involve cooking these tougher cuts of meat in some kind of liquid to tenderize them. When it comes to lamb, however, the prime kosher roasting joint— the shoulder—is considered the sweetest cut by butchers everywhere.
The ubiquitous meatball has its place in every Jewish ethnic cuisine, from the Romanian-style carnatzlich, which are rolled in paprika, then stewed with eggplant in a sweet-and-sour sauce, to the German Koenigsburger Klops, cooked in thickened gravy, to the Sephardi-style kofta kefiedes eem tahini, which are spiced with cumin, allspice, or cinnamon, and grilled under a covering of sesame seed paste.
On Evelyn's wedding day, her husband was given a handwritten recipe by his father as part of his dowry. It was the Rose family recipe for pickles, passed down through the male members of the family from one generation to the next. The women of the family were not permitted to read it, let alone make the pickles—according to old wives' tales, they might sour them. Although the recipe was developed long before the scientific basis of pickling had been established, every step proved to be correct according to current knowledge. According to Evelyn, the only concession her husband makes to the twenty first century is to store the bottled cucumbers in the refrigerator to keep them at peak condition.
Mother and Daughter Jewish Cooking
Two Generations of Jewish Women Share
Traditional and Contemporary Recipes
By Evelyn Rose and Judi Rose
William Morrow, March 2000
Reprinted by permission.
Mother and Daughter Jewish Cooking
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This page created April 2000