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Hello! It’s been a while – a very long while, we didn’t mean for almost 6 months to lapse – and there’s been a lot going on since we last checked in here. We’ll do our best to start catching up on the past five months (a very exciting and busy five months!) since our book The German-Jewish Cookbook was published in September. First, it was such an exciting experience to hold an actual book in our hands – OUR book – after working on it for so long. We realized the project took the better part of nine years (!!!) as we can date the early stages of our research back to 2009. Phew.

It never gets old seeing our book “in the wild”, and it was especially great to see it in the window of Kitchen Arts & Letters, the wonderful culinary bookstore in Manhattan – not only because it’s a shop we’ve adored and have been visiting and shopping at forever, but also because Nach Waxman, the founder, wrote the foreword to our book. And Matt Sartwell, the co-owner, is so helpful in so many ways and is an all-around mensch. We were especially tickled to see the book sitting next to Leave Me Alone with the Recipes by Cipe Paneles in the front window (look it up if you’re not familiar with this special book!).

 

The German-Jewish Cookbook in the window of Kitchen Arts & Letters, the culinary bookstore in NYC.

In many ways the world has become a tad bit smaller for us since the book was published as we began connecting with interested readers in real life, meeting people at book events and/or hearing their feedback about the book in comments and emails. Making these connections feels so important, as it is truly the main reason we wrote this book – as a way to preserve and share the food of a culture, something that unifies people.

We would love to hear your feedback and see photos of the recipes you are making from the book! Please share photos on social media if you can, using #GermanJewishCookbook so we’ll find it — either on Instagram (use #GermanJewishCookbook and tag @sonyagrop) or on Facebook (Facebook.com/German Jewish Cuisine), or Twitter (@Ger_Jew_Cuisine). Or simply email us photos: german.jewish.cuisine@gmail.com

 

Butter cookies (heading into the oven to bake) that we brought to our book talk at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA last November.

 

We have had many opportunities to meet people at the numerous book events we have had thus far on both the east and west coasts — in New York City, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles to date — where we have held events at a wide array of venues: book stores (both general and those that specialize in culinary books), universities, community centers, synagogues, Jewish organizations, and the NY Public library. Our events have been varied in nature, including book talks and readings (many of which include food tastings), cooking demonstrations, cooking classes, and restaurant dinners with special menus featuring our recipes. We are looking forward to meeting many more readers at future events. We have upcoming events scheduled in New York City; Boston; St. Petersburg, Florida; Germany (Berlin, Bamberg, and Munich); Ann Arbor, MI, with more to come. In the near future, we are excited about these upcoming events:

  • February 28th – a book talk at Espresso 77 in Jackson Heights, NYC
  • March 1st – a discussion about the book with the inimitable Mimi Sheraton at the 92nd St. Y in NYC
  • March 20th – a panel discussion with us and Atina Grossman and Jeffrey Yoskowitz at the Leo Baeck Institute (at the Center for Jewish History) in NYC
  • March 27th – a talk we will present at the Culinary Historians of Boston (in Cambridge, MA)

Please visit our events page for a complete listing of upcoming events. Please note: we will update the events page as additional events are added, so please check back.

 

Gaby speaking to the audience during our Jacques Pépin lecture at the Gastronomy Department at Boston University in November.

 

It is always exciting for us to meet people who are of German-Jewish ancestry who want to connect with their roots and share their family stories and/or their own food memories. We have met such people at just about all of our events across the country. One person brought along a bottle of fruit syrup that was empty but had a perfectly preserved (and beautiful) label still gracing the front. The bottle represents a strong link to her culinary past, as well as to her parents and her childhood, and she told us she keeps it carefully wrapped in a safe spot. Another person took a bite of Berches (the German version of challah) that we served at one of our events and tears started falling from her eyes – she told us this was the first time she was tasting this bread in 40 years, and that it tasted just as she remembered it!

 

This long-empty bottle of German strawberry syrup was brought by someone of German-Jewish background to one of our events.

 

It is also exciting to meet people of German background (non-Jews) who often recognize their own past in our recipes, foods that were perhaps made by their parents or grandparents. After all, German-Jewish cooking – which is both German and Jewish – is a culinary tradition which came to a halt in Germany in the 1930s during the Nazi era, when Jews fled. This resulted in a food tradition that in many ways is frozen in time, rendering it “old-fashioned”. The food we present was eaten before that time, and also continued to be eaten in varying degrees of adaptation by emigres in their new homes, in foreign countries.

 

The special German-Jewish menu listed on the chalkboard at Gravy restaurant in Vashon, WA last October.

It is also exciting to meet people who are not Jewish, nor German, who comprise a good part of our audiences who are interested in our book and its food traditions simply because they want to discover a new style of cooking. Some seem  fascinated with the fact that the recipes are embedded in a story that recounts memories of past generations. Others, in the details of this central European cuisine which highlights ingredients that are fresh and seasonal – and includes more vegetables than either German or Jewish food is generally given credit for.

We were thrilled to see how Chef Dre Neeley of Gravy, a restaurant on Vashon Island, near Seattle, interpreted our recipes for a special dinner menu he and partner Pepa Brower served last October. It was a 7-course meal, which heavily featured the incredible selection of fish available in the Pacific Northwest. Note that the menu is listed on the chalkboard in the photo above (though the amuse bouche of chopped liver pâté, shown below left, was not listed). On the right is salmon in aspic.

 

The fact that we are a mother-daughter team ALSO fascinates many, and we think one of the main reasons is that it emphasizes the multi-generational aspect of our project. But it also undoubtedly makes everyone wonder whether they’d be able to survive a nine-year project with their mother or daughter with humor and good nature intact. We have –though we’ve certainly traversed our fair share of stormy weather.

Sonya (left) and Gaby (right).

 

A few more photos of events and people we’ve met during the past five months of book events. It was a delightful afternoon and  such an honor to do a book talk at Omnivore Books in San Francisco. Many friends and family showed up on a sunny day.

Sonya (left) and Gaby (right) with Celia Sack (middle), owner of the wonderful shop Omnivore Books in San Francisco.

 

In Seattle, we taught a sold-out cooking class at Stroum JCC. We created an ambitious menu, cooking and baking an entire meal. There were plenty of tasks for everyone (peeling, grating, rolling, chopping, beating, boiling, draining, icing, etc) and when everything was done we sat together at a long table and schmoozed as we ate. Lisa Hurwitz (front +center in photo below, right) organized the class.

 

 

Book Larder is a delightful bookshop in Seattle that specializes in culinary books. It also has an in-store kitchen where cooking demos and classes are hosted. The in-house chef, Amanda, baked one of our cakes to serve during our evening book talk!

 

The audience at Book Larder in Seattle during our book talk.

And finally, we were so honored to be joined by Steven Lowenstein – historian and author of numerous books on German-Jewish culture – at our book talk at University of Southern California in collaboration with Hebrew Union College. Professors Paul Lerner and Leah Hochman invited us to do this talk, which had a great turnout of both students and members of the public.

(left to right) historian Steven Lowenstein, Sonya, Gaby, Professor Paul Lerner, University of Southern California

— Sonya & Gaby

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

We had a wonderful time at Golden Earthworm Organic Farm during their Harvest Festival recently, an annual event they host for their 2,000 CSA (community supported agriculture) members. One of the main points of becoming a member of a CSA – in addition to supporting a local farm and getting fresh, seasonal produce – is having a personal connection with the farmers who grow your food. Events such as this one offer a chance to walk in the fields and see exactly where your vegetables are grown. And, a chance to chat with the farmers – to ask them questions, give them feedback and just have a few laughs. We had been invited by Matthew Kurek and Maggie Wood, who run the farm along with James Russo, to come give a cooking demo of some of our recipes. After receiving a long list from the farm of which vegetables would be available, we decided to make two dishes: Kohlrabi en roux (kohlrabi in white sauce) and Krautsalat (or cabbage slaw).


© 2012 Jaime Jimenez 

We arrived at the farm on a warm, windy Sunday afternoon and found a big, green pile of freshly harvested vegetables waiting for us. And a bunch of CSA members who were ready to chat, watch us cook and eat! We got busy prepping the kohlrabi – removing the stalks and leaves, then peeling and slicing the bulbs.

© 2012 Jaime Jimenez 

After chopping some parsley to add to the dish, we cooked the kohlrabi until tender, then made a roux, a white sauce made with butter and flour and vegetable broth. Kohlrabi often appears in stores, at markets and in CSA boxes without its stalks and leaves, but these had their leaves intact so we decided to use them in the dish. After tossing the cooked kohlrabi with the chopped parsley, we combined them with the roux, and served it up on little fluted paper plates.

© 2012 Jaime Jimenez 

The day was so busy and fun – and went by so quickly – we unfortunately didn’t get any photos of the plated food (The photo below of the finished dish is actually from a few weeks ago, when I made it at home). Luckily, we ran into photographer Jaime Jimenez, a fellow member of my CSA in Queens, Farm Spotwho was visiting the farm with his family and who offered to shoot some photos for us. Thanks, Jaime!

Kohlrabi seems to be a vegetable that people regularly refer to as being one of the most difficult to cook with – or rather, the one people are most confused about because they are unfamiliar with it. So we were especially delighted to see that everyone loved this recipe. Everyone – from little children to grandmothers – polished off their sample. Most asked for seconds, some asked for thirds. It’s that good.

Kohlrabi en Roux  serves 4-6 as a side dish

Kohlrabi is in the cabbage family and has a subtle, somewhat sweet flavor, similar to Brussels sprouts. Ideally, the kohlrabi will be tender. It is best to use medium-sized bulbs, rather than very large or very small ones. The outside skin must be peeled, either before or after cooking. Here we use the bulbs and the green leaves and discard the stems (though they may be reserved for another use, such as making a stock). This recipe is cooked in the German style with a light roux, or white sauce. We use a light vegetable broth for the liquid, rather than milk or cream, in order to allow the lovely, delicate taste of the kohlrabi to shine through.

2 cups vegetable broth (or 1½ teaspoons vegetable bouillon paste, such as “Better Than Bouillon”, and 2 cups water)

1 bunch (3 or 4 medium) kohlrabi

1½ tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoons all-purpose flour (gluten-free flour may be substituted)

salt + white pepper to taste

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped fine

1) Making the Broth: If using bouillon paste, boil the 2 cups water in a medium-sized saucepan. Remove from heat and add the bouillon, stirring to dissolve. If using vegetable broth, skip to step #2.

2) Preparing the kohlrabi: Wash the kohlrabi. Trim off the stems from the tops of the bulbs and cut off the green leaves. Discard the stems (or save them for a future soup stock), and chop the leaves into ¼” slices. Set aside. Peel the kohlrabi bulbs, removing all the hard outer part. Slice the bulbs into ¼” slices.

3) Cooking the kohlrabi:  Bring the broth to a boil. Add the sliced kohlrabi bulbs and leaves, lower heat, cover and simmer about 15 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from heat and drain, reserving the liquid.

4) Making the white sauce: In a second pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Lower heat and add the flour, whisking to blend. When the mixture is smooth, slowly add the broth, stirring all the while to keep the sauce smooth. Keep adding liquid until you have reached the desired consistency.  Add salt and white pepper to taste, and the parsley and mix. Finally, add the drained vegetables. Serve immediately (or keep warm on a very low flame until ready to serve).

Growing up, I often ate the food of my two Jewish grandmothers (and my grandfather, but that’s another story). I loved eating at both households, though their foods were very different. I’m not sure when it was exactly, but at a certain point I realized that the food at Oma and Opa’s house, (Erna and Stephen Rossmer, my maternal, German-Jewish grandparents), was quite different than that at Nana and Zaidy’s (Ida and Max Gropman, my paternal, Eastern-European Jewish grandparents). Their food was unique, unlike most of the food eaten by other Jewish families I knew. True, there was matzoh ball soup at both houses, but even the broth they sat in differed: chicken soup vs. beef soup. I wrote about my Oma’s beef soup – a beef broth, really – for The Jew & The Carrot, the food blog of The Jewish Daily ForwardYou can read the article here (including the recipe for Beef Soup with Noodles). But matzoh balls are pretty much where the similarities both begin and end. I gradually realized that Oma and Opa’s food represented a special cuisine, one which was not well-known and was in fact over-looked.

Both of my grandparents’ families resided in Germany for many generations. When I asked my grandfather to make me a family tree for a school project, he was able to trace our family history back hundreds of years – as far back as the late 1600s on my grandmother’s side. That was when the paper trail ended, but surely they’d been there longer than that. Many other Jews had also been in Germany (and in nearby German-speaking Austria, Czechoslovakia and Alsace) for that length of time, meaning German-Jewish communities were quite solidly established – as were their food traditions

As is generally the case, the cuisine of Jews in Germany reflected the food that was available to them both geographically and culturally. German-Jewish food was essentially German food with a twist – a twist to adapt dishes to conform to kosher law. This may have meant replacing dairy ingredients with non-dairy ingredients, or cooking a dish in a slow oven overnight on Fridays in observation of Sabbath rules. But in general, the ingredients remained the same as those used by non-Jewish neighbors – the same vegetables, fruits, grains, and to a large degree, the same meats. But a cuisine is more than the sum of its parts, more than just a collection of recipes and ingredients. It is a shared experience and a shared history. It was this realization that inspired us – my mother Gabrielle and I – to investigate this topic. We decided to research this food and to reach out to others who grew up eating it – and perhaps still eat it today – as a way to preserve, share and document this foodway.

We would like to hear from you – to try your recipes and hear about your family’s meals! We welcome your comments, questions, stories or recipes.

While we are writing this blog in English, feel free to write to us in German and we will translate (Sie können in Deutsch gern schreiben. Wir werden übersetzen.).

We look forward to hearing from you!

– Sonya

Photos, from top: Beef Soup with Noodles; Bamberg, Germany, 2011 (left: landscape, right: green walnuts on tree); our cousin Ann, gathering walnuts in Munich, mid-1930s.

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