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We realize we’ve been absent from these parts for quite a few months…it turns out that the many (many!) steps of writing a book take a lot of time. The cover of our soon-to-be-published cookbook is above (photo: Sonya Gropman, food styling: Catrine Kelty). To say that we are excited is a bit of an understatement, we are very thrilled.

For info on where to buy the book, visit our book page.

We will be doing many book events all over the country, starting on the east coast in September in New York City and Boston. These will include readings, talks, cooking classes, special restaurant menus, etc. and almost all will include book signings. See a listing on our events page and be sure to check back, as we’ll be updating it as we add new events. We hope to see you in person at some point soon!

Herta in elevator

We are very sad to announce the passing of Herta Bloch on December 24, 2015 at the age of 94. We feel fortunate to have met Herta a couple of years ago, and to have spent two lovely afternoons visiting her in her Washington Heights apartment, where she had lived for more than 50 years. One of those afternoons, we sat in her living room overlooking the Hudson River as she told us stories about her life — her youth in Germany, emigrating to the U.S., and stories about running her store Bloch & Falk with her husband, Alfred. She spoke in great detail about the store, and she could recall individual customers, even those she hadn’t seen in many decades. Our post about Bloch & Falk, which we published here in 2013, has had an overwhelming response – mostly from people who had shopped there and have very strong and wonderful memories of eating the wide variety of meats – (wursts and aufschnitt) that the store produced. There have been almost 150 comments to date, reflecting how unique and special the store was, both for the products it produced, as well as for the generosity and kindness of its owners. You can read that post HERE.

On our second visit with Herta, we spent an afternoon baking krokerle – chocolate-hazelnut spice cookies – in her kitchen. She was a gracious host, and we had a lovely time chatting and laughing. Afterwards, we crowded around her tiny kitchen table and had cookies and coffee. You can read that post HERE.

We are glad, too, to have met her children: Marion, Andrew, and Richard (now sadly deceased, but whom we had a phone conversation with several years ago and who introduced us to Herta in the first place), and their families. Our heartfelt condolences to them on their loss.

Thanks for sharing with us, Herta! May you rest in peace.

12/27/2015 [obituary from Riverside Memorial Chapel in NYC]
Herta Bloch, nee Wertheimer, was born in Kippenheim, Germany a town in the black forest area, with a population of 1800 and approximately 40 Jewish families. The family came to America on April 1st, 1938 and settled in Manhattan. She worked as a live-in maid so that her parents could rent out one of the rooms for extra income. She married Alfred Bloch on March 30th, 1946 after he returned home from the Army. They worked together everyday in the family kosher butcher shop, Bloch & Falk, which catered to the German Jewish population of Washington Heights. They had 3 children, Marion, Richard and Andrew. Richard passed away 2 years ago, on 12/27/13. Marion Cherson Bloch is married to David Cherson, and they have one daughter, Shoshana Cherson. Shoshana is engaged to André Dudkiewicz. Richard Bloch was not married at the time of his death and had no children. Andrew Bloch is married to Kathy Hayes-Bloch, and they have 2 children, Kiera Bloch and Evan Bloch. All but Richard are still living. Herta had a sister, Margot Kohn, who died on 10/16/12. Margot is survived by her husband Jacques Kohn, but they have no surviving children. Herta had a large network of extended family and friends that she kept very close contact with right to the end of her life. She had many first cousins, spread all over the US, England, Australia and Israel that she has maintained close ties with. She was extremely devoted to her family. Herta lived an exemplary life filled with humor, grit and resiliency, making the best of any life circumstance that came her way.

We are writing a cookbook! We are very excited to announce that Brandeis University Press – a member press of University Press of New England – will publish our German-Jewish cookbook as part of the HBI Series on Jewish Women. The book, to be published in 2017, will include:

• approximately 100 recipes (sourced from historic cookbooks, archives, interviews, friends — and, of course, family recipes)

• photographs by yours truly, Sonya Gropman, and illustrations by Megan Piontowski

• a look at the food culture of German-Jews through individual stories, including those from our own family

• a brief history of the culture of Jews in Germany

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This book will contain recipes that were cooked by Jews in Germany pre-World War II, as well as post-war, after emigration. These recipes use mainly fresh, seasonal ingredients; lots of vegetables, fruits, grains, meats, and of course, cakes!  Perhaps most importantly, this food is delicious! Dishes such as chilled fruit soups, vegetable slaws and salads, baked Schalets (aka kugels), Sabbath fish (such as Pike and Carp), roast meats and poultry, dessert puddings, and much more.

In addition to wonderful food, this book is also about preserving a vanished culture. Therefore, we are collecting both recipes and stories. If you (or anyone you know) have recipes to share with us, or food memories of shopping, cooking, eating, holiday meals, etc. (either in Germany, or after leaving Germany), we would like to hear from you! We will, of course, credit anyone whose story we tell in the book. Thanking you in advance!

You can leave us a comment below, or email us at german.jewish.cuisine@gmail.com

Also, we will be in Berlin later this month. We will be teaching a cooking class at Goldhahn & Sampson (the class is sold out, but there is a waiting list in case any spots become available), and meeting with people related to our book. If you know anyone in Berlin who you think we should contact (for example, someone with a story to tell or someone who works with food), please let us know!

That’s all for now. We will be updating our book progress on a regular basis. Until then, we are wishing you a Happy Spring!

Bam Potato (90)

On our recent trip to Bamberg, I stopped by the ObstMarkt in the middle of a plaza in the heart of the Old City (the literal translation is “fruit market”, though vegetables are sold there as well). I wanted to see what types of products might be available in the winter months. There was a wider variety than I expected (at least compared with the farmers’ markets I am accustomed to in my neck of the woods), and I realized that this type of outdoor food market is a combination of a farmers’ market as I know it (one which only sells locally-grown products) and a good-quality produce shop (which sells imported items). As seems to be the norm at German markets, every item had its origin noted on the little price card that sticks out of its crate, and much of the produce seemed to come from other European countries – France, Spain, etc. But in late November, some of the only local items available were these tiny potatoes. They’re so local, in fact, that they are from Bamberg itself!

The Bamberger Hörnla (Bamberg Potato) is a tiny potato with a long history.  A small, slender, finger-shaped potato with a thin skin and a waxy, yellow interior, it has been registered by the European Union as a “regional specialty” (the plant, as well as the potato!). In the same way that the name “Champagne” may not be applied to sparkling wine unless the grapes were grown in a specific region of France, in order for a potato to be named a Bamberger Hörnla it must be grown in the Franconian region of Germany. Because it is a low-yield crop, as well as a delicate one, it is not lucrative for farmers to grow. Thus, it is only produced on a small scale, often in home gardens for personal use. This potato is not exported and is generally only available for purchase at local markets.

Bam Potato (81)Bam Potato (89)

While Bamberg has a very long agricultural tradition, I only learned recently the full extent of its history as an urban farming city. According to the Slow Food organization — which created a presidium in Bamberg dedicated in 2009 to the Bamberger Hörnla potato (meaning it’s a protected species) — there was a “garden quarter” (Gärtnerviertel) in the Old City dating back to the 14th century. By the middle of the 19th century, there were about 500 urban farmhouses (one third of all the buildings in the city). Each of these had a garden plot of about 1,000 square meters (approximately 1/4 acre) in their backyard where vegetables, herbs, fruit trees and grape vines were grown.  Considering my own involvement with, and passion for, supporting local agriculture I am kind of amazed to learn of this agricultural tradition in one of my familial hometowns — the one where both my grandfather and mother were born. It gives me a feeling of continuity. It also throws a different light on imagining the types of fruits and vegetables my great-grandmother may have used in her cooking — both those purchased on her regular shopping trips to this same market that I visited (which perhaps was selling some items that had been growing only a few blocks from her home!), as well as things that grew in her own backyard. While our family were not farmers (they owned a factory that manufactured men’s clothing in Bamberg), they had a large yard that lay between the factory and their apartment building. The garden was a point of pride for the family, a place where they grew fruit trees and roses, among other things.

Bam Potato in steamer (97)I purchased a small sackful of Bamberger Hörnla from a stand at the market. The purveyor made a special point of telling me to cook them with their skins on, and if I wanted to peel them to do so after they were cool enough to handle. It is traditional to use these tasty little potatoes for a potato salad that is dressed with broth and vinaigrette. But since I only had a small amount of them, I decided to make a simple dish of steamed potatoes with butter and parsley.

Bam Potato cooked (14)Bam Potato cooked (06)

A recipe is hardly needed for this dish, but here are the simple steps. The amounts are variable, but figure on approximately one pound of potatoes for four people, with about one tablespoon of butter, one or two handfuls of chopped parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.

Steamed Potatoes with Butter + Parsley  

Potatoes (any will do, but waxy potatoes such as Yukon Gold, red skinned, or new potatoes work well)

Butter, cut into thin pats (at room temperature)

Parsley, chopped

Salt and Pepper

1) Scrub the potatoes. Leave whole, or, if large, cut in half or quarters (trying to keep the pieces the same size).

2) Steam the potatoes in a steamer basket for 10-15 minutes, or until a fork easily pierces the flesh.

3) (Optional: If desired, peel potatoes when they are cool enough to handle, but still warm.)

3) Put potatoes in a serving dish. Add pats of butter, salt, pepper, and parsley. Toss gently. Serve

Bam Potato cooked (17)


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What a pleasure to think back to that balmy autumn day on Long Island, while we shovel out of our two feet of snow here in Boston. This is a perfect time, when pretty much everything has closed down in the public world, to sit down and write up the cabbage segment of the two-part cooking demonstration we held at Golden Earthworm Organic Farm’s CSA Harvest Festival last October. You can read about the first part, preparing Kohlrabi in Roux (with a recipe included), here.

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We chose to make our Cabbage Slaw, a dish prepared during my childhood by my grandmother. I always loved it at the festive meals where it accompanied things like roasted duck. But we realized that it could easily be a stand-alone dish that people would enjoy snacking on during the farm’s afternoon event.

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This dish is neither a typical cole slaw (it does not contain mayonnaise), nor sauerkraut (it is not fermented), though it bears similarities to both. The characteristic feature of this recipe is that the cabbage, after having been shredded as finely as possible, is covered by boiling salted water and allowed to steep for at least one hour, causing it to wilt while maintaining much of its crunchiness. During the demo at the farm we poured off the water after a half-hour (simply because we were short on time) and had good results, though the extra soaking time certainly results in the cabbage having a more subdued – and pleasing – texture. After dressing the cabbage in a vinaigrette, it was ready to go – and go it did!!  Children and adults alike came back for seconds (and thirds!). We realized we aren’t alone in our penchant for this zesty slaw. Actually, it would be a great dish in this snowy weather. I think I will go make some now to eat along with the lamb shank that’s roasting in the oven.

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Cabbage Slaw (Krautsalat) serves 6-8 as a side dish

Although the original recipe for Krautsalat in my grandmother Emma’s handwritten cookbook included onion, she did not use them when she made it. Hers was a very mild salad that successfully accompanies any roasted meat, or even a myriad of vegetarian meals. Since I never made note of what she actually did, I have reproduced the taste and texture of her version based upon my childhood memories to create this recipe. This unique dish is surprisingly addictive – the cabbage, which is halfway between cooked and raw, retains a satisfying crunch that is made refreshing by the acidity of the dressing.

The cabbage is best if shredded quite fine into a large bowl. We use a mandolin – (pictured above, left, is my grandmother’s wooden mandolin that she brought Germany that I still use today) but you can also use a box grater on the long bladed side, or a food processor using the slicer attachment. -by Gabrielle                                                                                          

1 quart of water with 2 heaping teaspoons of salt

1 medium sized head of green cabbage

2 tablespoons canola or safflower oil

4 tablespoons white wine vinegar

salt and white pepper, to taste

1) Boil the water with the salt.

2) Prepare the cabbage: Shred the cabbage into a large heat-proof bowl.

3) Pour the boiling salted water over the shredded cabbage. Let it sit until the water cools, about an hour.

4) Pour off as much of the water as you can by pressing down with a plate that is slightly smaller than the diameter of the bowl, holding down the plate and inverting the bowl in the sink until all the water has poured off.

4) Make the dressing: Combine the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl and whisk. Pour this over the cabbage and toss.

5) The slaw will be ready to eat immediately, though the taste and texture will mellow and blend if allowed to stand for an hour or more.

photos, from top: cross section of a green cabbage; shredded cabbage; finished slaw in dish; whole head of green cabbage; Gabrielle (in red apron) shredding cabbage on mandolin while a farm visitor looks on.

mohnberches bamberg

Photo: Regina Hanemann

After our last post (about making Berches, Jewish ceremonial bread, in Berlin), we received a surprise in the form of the photo above. It was sent to us in an e-mail from Dr. Regina Hanemann, director of the municipal museums of Bamberg. It is a Mohnberches (Mohn = poppy seed) that she purchased at the Bäckerei Kerlinga family-run bakery in this small Bavarian city – which happens to be Gaby’s birthplace. What is surprising is that virtually nobody in Germany remembers what Berches is anymore, yet this bakery continues to make it, fully aware of its Jewish background. We do not know whether any of the Jews living in Bamberg today (most of whom are originally from Eastern Europe) buy this bread, which was specific to the Jews of Germany. Dr. Hanemann spoke with the baker, Herr Kerling, who said his father remembers baking it every week for his Jewish clientele. He also said that the dough is the same as the well-known Franconian roll Weckla, though the preparation is different. Dr. Hanemann described the bread as tasting good, though quite neutral, with a fine texture that was denser than other white breads. She also said the inside was very, very white (due to no eggs).

We are posting a recipe here for Berches which is adapted from Herta Bloch. The recipe offers the option of either making two smaller loaves in loaf pans, or forming one larger free-form loaf. Using the pans may be easier for a beginner – the loaves will be guaranteed to rise tall and the braided top will appear over the rim of the pan.

Berches makes 2 loaf pan-sized loaves, or one large free-form loaf. Adapted from Herta Bloch

2 pounds (7 cups) all-purpose flour + extra for bread board

¼ cup + 2 cups lukewarm water, more as needed

1   ¼- ounce package active dry yeast

½ teaspoon sugar

¼ cup neutral oil (such as canola or safflower) + extra for greasing bowl and pan

1 medium white potato (such as russet), cooked, peeled, mashed, and cooled

4 teaspoons kosher salt

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1-2 tablespoons black poppy seeds

1) Place flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center of the flour.

2) Pour ¼ cup lukewarm water in the well. Add yeast and sugar and stir gently to dissolve. Let sit for 5-10 minutes, until it is bubbling.

3) Add the oil, mashed potato, and salt. With a wooden spoon (or your hands), start to mix the flour into the yeast mixture in the well. Gradually add warm water as needed to moisten the flour (being careful not to add too much, the dough should remain firm), while continuing to mix.

4) Remove dough from bowl and put on a floured bread board, or counter. Knead by hand until all the flour is incorporated and the dough is well-blended and smooth.

5) Wash and dry the bowl and grease lightly with oil. Return dough to bowl, cover with a slightly damp kitchen towel and put in a warm spot. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

6) Punch down the dough in the bowl. Turn it out onto floured bread board, or counter, and knead until smooth.

7a) For loaf pans: Lightly oil two loaf pans. Cut dough in half. Using first half: cut into 3 equal parts, roll each part into a rope and braid the 3 ropes together. Place in oiled loaf pan. Repeat with other half.

[OR]

7b) For free-form loaf: Lightly oil a cookie sheet. Cut dough into 3 equal parts, roll each part into a rope of equal length. Pinch the ends of the three ropes together and braid the ropes together. Pinch the ends together, and tuck both ends of the braid under. Place loaves on cookie sheet.

8) Cover pans or loaf with moistened towel. Return to warm spot and let rise until doubled in size, about 1-2 hours.

9) Preheat oven to 350° F. Brush top of loaf/loaves with beaten egg and sprinkle evenly with the poppy seeds. Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is light golden brown and the bottom of the loaf makes a hollow sound when tapped with your finger.

10) Let cool on a rack. If using loaf pans, when cool enough to handle, turn loaves out and put on rack to finish cooling.

– Sonya

Last month I spent time in the gorgeous old neighborhood of Lichterfelde in Berlin. Very substantial three story buildings erected by a thriving bourgeoisie in the first decade of the 20th century.  I was there to conduct a mediation training with my colleagues and friends Dirk and Ljubjana at their institute Inmedio. One of the evenings the trainers, some friends, and mediation trainees gathered for a “Fireside Chat” – an evening event they hold regularly. That evening I was making a presentation about our German-Jewish food project, a topic that loosely fits into one of the themes that preoccupies the Institute, the theme of dialogue. Speaking to a young German audience about the food culture of Jews who were historically German becomes an exploration of the interconnectedness between German-Jews and Germans. Dialogue is built into this conversation.

[ left: Gaby speaking with the group; right: Ljubjana and Gaby [photos courtesy: Cynthia Petrigh]

Germany has done a good job of teaching the Holocaust, perhaps too good. Sitting before me was a group of progressive people, all pursuing socially aware professions, whose vision of a Jewish person is inextricably connected with genocide committed by their ancestors. Most of them do not personally know any Jews. I was telling them that, although the Jewish community disappeared from Germany, a minority of us survived elsewhere, scattered across the globe. In my case, it was the 20,000 member German-Jewish community of Washington Heights in Manhattan where I grew up – which was large enough to continue the food culture of the old country. In addition, there were thousands more  refugees from German-speaking Europe scattered around the New York area, with concentrations in the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Queens.

left: Gaby slicing and serving Berches; right: eating Berches  [photos courtesy Cynthia Petrigh]

I showed a Power Point presentation of images of German-Jewish life in New York in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. And I spoke about the food, touching upon Jewish food traditions such as Kosher law and special dishes for Shabbos and holidays. And also about German dishes that were tweaked to conform to Jewish law. Today, Jewish food in Germany is represented by Jews who have settled there post-war – primarily from Eastern Europe – whose food is quite different from that of the Jews of Germany before the war. I was speaking not only about Jewish cooking, but specifically German-Jewish Cooking. This was something that was hard for them to wrap their heads around because it virtually stopped existing in Germany after the war. That is one of the main reasons why Sonya and I are working on this project, to bring recognition of this food tradition and its culture back into the world.

I had baked two loaves of Berches the day before in Dirk and Ljubjana’s large kitchen overlooking the wooded garden (Berches is the German-Jewish version of Challah – a braided ceremonial bread made without eggs, often including potatoes in the dough). The bread was to be served with other foods as part of a cold buffet after my presentation.  But before we began eating, I decided to make a traditional Friday night prayer over the bread. I said the brucha and then tore some of the bread into small pieces and handed it out to everyone. I wanted to emphasize the blessed nature of this bread, whose very name Berches is said to derive from the Hebrew word for blessing, Baruch. I explained that this bread was not only eaten during Jewish holidays, but also every single week during Shabbos. Then I sliced the bread and we all ate it with the accompanying spread of cheeses, cold cuts, hummus, guacamole, olives and grapes. Everyone thought the Berches was delicious and I received many “thank you’s” at the end of the evening for introducing people to this forgotten taste and tradition.

Note: unfortunately I did not get any close-up photos of the Berches I made in Berlin. The shot above is of a Berches I made in October in a bread pan – it is unbraided, but made of the same dough.

-Gaby

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