A new cookbook re-imagines traditional Ashkenazi food, a cuisine that for years was rejected by the children and grandchildren of immigrants from central and eastern Europe. This book is a big step toward correcting that injustice.
Jeffrey Yoskowitz, who, together with Liz Alpern, co-authored a new cookbook called The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods, has been on a culinary journey over the past decade. His experience includes a stint in Israel, where he volunteered for a year on a kibbutz that specializes in pig farming. During that period he wrote a witty blog about the conceit of being a vehemently secular American Jewish pig farmer in the holy land who refuses to eat pork for reasons of cultural identity.
Years later, at a cafe in Brooklyn, I asked him why he eschewed pork, since he did not observe any other aspect of Jewish religious law. “Because,” he answered, “Eating pork is for me the red line. After that, I don’t know what defines the identity of a secular Jew.” Jeffrey being Jeffrey — that is to say, a smart and thoughtful listener — he was completely open to a vigorous debate on what defined a secular, or cultural Jew. He was willing to consider that maybe going to Chinatown for moo shoo pork on Christmas Eve was a sort of secular Jewish cultural ritual.
The Gefilte Manifesto is a glorious paean to the cuisine that is such a big part of central European Jewish heritage and identity. It is a re-imagining of traditional Ashkenazi Jewish food, one that is both deeply rooted in the old world and utterly contemporary. Nor is it sentimental. This is not The Fiddler on the Roof Cookbook.
Gently and with humor, Yoskowitz and Alpern present their case for a traditional cuisine that for years was rejected and denigrated, by the children and grandchildren of Jews who emigrated from central and eastern Europe, as unsophisticated, bland, too “brown,” too fatty and generally unhealthy. These characterizations beg the question, of course: how did generations of Ashkenazi Jews survive for centuries on tasteless, unhealthy food? And what in the world were our grandparents nostalgic for?
The answer, of course, is that something got lost in in translation during the process of uprooting themselves from the old country and resettling in the new. Jewish European cuisine got a very bad rap, and this cookbook is a big step toward correcting that injustice.
The Gefilte Manifesto includes several essays by Alpern and...Read More