There was once an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show involving interviews with Hollywood A-listers about one important topic: refrigerator contents. I was most fascinated by the selection of mustard options in (the artist formerly known as) Prince’s fridge. So in my never-ending quest to be more like Ms. Winfrey, I decided to Jewish Food Experience-ify Oprah’s celeb icebox inventory odyssey and ask Jewish food enthusiasts what they’re reading. Today, I’m sharing some of the trends I found during my interviews. Tune in—I mean click through—over the next few weeks for a more in-depth look at what occupies the bookshelves of these Jewish culinary movers and (salt) shakers.
The New York Times, the New Yorker (specifically, the New Yorker’s food issue), Bon Appétit, Saveur, The Jew and the Carrot, Smitten Kitchen, The Kitchn and The Forward popped up in nearly all of my interviews for this series. Joan Nathan was mentioned countless times. “There are cookbooks that tell stories that are foundational, like most books by Joan Nathan, but especially Jewish Cooking in America,” says Jeffrey Yoskowitz of The Gefilteria. James Beard, Mark Bittman and Julia Child got several well-deserved shout-outs, too.
A quick note on paper. It seems that my sampling of Jewishly knowledgeable food people love to actually hold a newspaper or magazine in their hands. Laura Silver, author of Knish: In Search of a Jewish Soul Food, speaks for the group when she says hardcopy reading materials are “easier on the eyes and more pleasant in the tactile realm.”
A Hug From Mollie
And another huge trend in the bunch: Mollie Katzen and the entire Moosewood Cookbook family. Washington DC Chef’s Table author Beth Kanter sums it up beautifully: “There is something about seeing those recipes in Mollie Katzen’s pretty handwriting that almost feels like a hug.” Perhaps my next series should focus just on Moosewood and all Ms. Katzen has done for contemporary American Jewish cooking…
One last theme I can certainly identify with is a love of handwritten family recipes. I asked Shannon Sarna of The Nosher about her favorite source for Jewish recipe inspiration. Her response: “Does my husband count? Most of the traditional Jewish recipes I make come from his family.”
Beth Kanter described Grandma Goodell’s 200-word chocolate chip and raisin cookie recipe as the pièce de résistance of a small notebook full of handwritten gems. Yoskowitz goes for the power close on this one: “There’s nothing I value more than family cookbooks. I inherited one with recipes I am unlikely to ever make and that bear no resemblance to traditional family recipes (tofu kugel?), but it symbolizes a history of assimilation that is far too great to dismiss,” he says.
The mention of really old cookbooks also popped up during my research. I wasn’t surprised—my mom’s single source for all things Jewish food was the Worcester Jewish Home Cookbook, which not only included my grandmother’s kugel recipe (it contains Velveeta), but also several other classics from chicken to chopped liver. Sarna is keeping the sisterhood cookbook tradition alive with one from her grandmother’s shul, which has a permanent spot on her kitchen counter and “has a couple of really great recipes I use regularly, including—of all things—my recipe for sugar cookies.” Yoskowitz admitted to a love of “experimenting with older recipes from Ashkenazi Jewish cookbooks, like Regina Frishwasser’s Jewish American Cookbook from the 40s.” And Amy Kritzer of What Jew Wanna Eat told me she loves to thumb through Jewish communal classics from temples and youth groups for midcentury inspiration.
I drooled while interviewing each one of these lovely humans. Their hard work to document the food of the Jewish people along with healthy doses of culture and polish is inspiring.
Silver concluded her interview with a recipe for the perfect Jewish food library. And in a very l’dor va’dor-slash-blogger-to-reader kind of way, I am passing on the last few ingredients to you: “Stir in some holiday seasonings: A Tu b’Shevat Seder. A handful of Passover Haggadot (they need not match). Then garnish liberally with humor books, au choix. It’s pretty pointless to cook—or write, or even eat—without a sense of humor.”
The remaining results of my interviews are delicious and informative and have fully stocked my “to cook” Gmail folder/wish list for the entirety of 2015. I’ll see you back here soon for the next installment in this series.