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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

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 both honored and flattered by the article “Can German-Jewish Food be the next culinary trend?“, written by Wes Eichenwald for The Jewish Advocate, the Boston weekly newspaper. But more than that, we are so happy and appreciative to see our subject written about in a way that highlights its multiple angles – both culinary and cultural. The article is being published today, September 4, 2015, in the holiday issue of the newspaper — but you can also read a digital version of it on the Jewish Advocate’s website HERE .

In other news, we have been hard at work on the cookbook – writing and testing recipes, writing and testing recipes, writing and testing recipes, etc. You get the picture.

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 left (by Don Gropman): Sonya & Gaby in cooking mode; right: testing a trout recipe

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We are very excited to be cooking and serving a Pesach seder meal in collaboration with Ulrich Krauss at Zagreus Projekta gallery in the Mitte neighborhood of Berlin that exhibits art and also serves food. By coincidence, the building was originally built (around 100 years ago) as a mikvah — a ritual bath. Some of the original tiles are seen above and below. 

✶ ✶ ✶

German-Jewish Pesach Seder Meal

Saturday March 28th at 8pm

 Zagreus Projekt, Brunnenstrasse 9a, Mitte

 info + reservation click HERE (scroll to bottom of page)

or call +49 30 28 09 56 40

✶ ✶ ✶

✶  MENU  ✶

Charoset

Horseradish

Matzo

Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls

Fish Salad

Veal Roast

Matzo Schalet

Cabbage Salad

Vegetables Vinaigrette

Grimsele with Wine Sauce

 ✶

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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)

herta (medium size)_opt

Herta Bloch, 2013, NYC

Herta Bloch — who we wrote about in our last post HERE — knew practically everyone in the German-Jewish community of Washington Heights in NYC between the 1940s through the mid-1990s, because during those years so many people shopped at Bloch & Falk, the store she owned with her husband Alfred. They came to buy the German-style cold cuts and sausages (Aufschnitt and Wurst) that were made exclusively of beef or veal (as opposed to the de rigueur pork of most German meat products). All of their products were made and smoked on-site in the back room: kosher salami, ring sausage, pastrami, smoked tongue, corned beef, the ubiquitous cervelat (a hard salami) and many other assorted meats.

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Vintage images of Bloch & Falk store, Washington Heights, NYC Photos courtesy of Herta Bloch

My grandparents, as well as most of their friends and family, shopped at Bloch & Falk. After Oma and Opa moved to New Jersey in the 1950s, they continued to make the short journey back over the Hudson River to shop at Bloch & Falk on a regular basis for the provisions they ate on a daily basis. The store was on Broadway and 173rd Street and was an easy stop en route to or from New Jersey via the George Washington Bridge. I don’t think their refrigerator was often without a stash of cured meats wrapped in white, waxy butcher’s paper. After Opa died, my uncle Andy would often stop in there to shop for Oma, until the store went out of business in the 1990s.

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Vintage images of Bloch & Falk store, Washington Heights, NYC. Photos courtesy of Herta Bloch

Today the type of food Bloch & Falk produced has almost completely disappeared. Sausages and cold cuts with that unique blend of both German and Jewish qualities barely exist anymore — and if so, probably not with the superior quality of B&F, where everything was made by hand, in-house and in small batches. We were surprised to discover, quite by accident, a beef ring sausage for sale at the Kleinmarkthalle in Frankfurt (a large, indoor market with many stalls of food purveyors) in 2011. My mother spotted it first: Rindwurst (beef sausage) written in blue writing on a package in the glass case of a meat vendor we were walking past. Since it is unusual to see beef, instead of the usual pork, sausages in Germany, she inquired of the purveyor and learned that the company — Gref Völsings,  a local sausage company in Frankfurt that has been in business since 1894 — originally made these sausages specifically for their Jewish customers starting about 100 years ago, and has continued making them ever since. My mom bought a vacuum sealed package of the Rindwurst to bring home to Boston. There, she made the same traditional lentil soup that both her mother and grandmother made when she was a kid, using the smoked Ringwurst from Bloch & Falk to impart a smoky, meaty flavor to the soup. To her great surprise, she said it tasted very, very much the same as the Ringwurst from her childhood!

rindwurst2 frankfurt_opt rindwurst3 frankfurt_opt

People who remember the store and their products still lament the loss of Bloch & Falk. To this day, people write comments on blogs and internet chat rooms about their Wurst and Aufschnitt in yearning tones. Herta shrugs off the suggestion that someone, somewhere might make a similar product. “Ah, it would be much too expensive to do it the way Alfred made it. And besides, no one knows how to do it.” Yet, Herta perhaps isn’t fully aware of the growing artisanal food movement, one where people are willing to seek out — and spend more — for quality, hand-made products. Perhaps this is the type of product that would allow two seemingly distant food worlds — one of Old World traditions and the other of modern tastes rediscovering those same Old World traditions, to successfully meet up.

We wonder: would there be a market today for these types of sausages and cold cuts that have all but become extinct? What are your thoughts? We would like to hear from you!

–Sonya

 

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image from aufschnitt.net

 

Boston being Boston, the Boston Globe’s food pages last month turned to Irish food traditions, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. In this article, Jane Dornbusch wrote about a butcher shop in the Irish-American neighborhood of Dorchester in Boston. What struck me most profoundly about the piece was how in many ways it could just as easily have been written about German-Jewish food traditions. It included aspects of Irish food that were unfamiliar to me, and the one that struck me first was the topic of sausage.

Dornbusch writes: “…the shop carries as many as 18 house-made varieties. Even on a dreary winter day, there are several types in the case: lamb, curried chicken, chicken with spinach and feta, Buffalo chicken, Italian sweet and hot, Guinness and leek.”

This same description could have been written about the German-Jewish butchers of Washington Heights when I was growing up in terms of the large variety of sausages available.

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image from aufschnitt.net

The butcher, Alan Gibson, is a native of Ireland who opened the Butcher Shop Market in 2009. He acknowledged that the Irish-American tradition of corned beef was unknown to him in Ireland, but that he, being a food purveyor in Boston, learned about corned beef in order to meet the demand of his customers. He prepares it the natural way, without preservatives, with a simple brine. The color of his corned beef is not the commonly seen red (which is chemically induced), but rather greyish.

The prevailing tradition here is not only the food itself, but also its preparation and adherence to historic standards of purity. This story felt familiar. I could relate – not only to the sausage part, but to the principle of simple food preparation without a whole lot of food industry commercializations. I thank Jane Dornbusch for this story which illuminated an aspect of our own story for me.

The pictures of sausages you see above and below are not Irish. In fact, they are not real sausages at all, but rather sewn and stuffed fabric! We recently discovered this shop owned by Silvia Wald, called Aufschnitt, that makes these “cuddly wursts” in Germany – in the Friedrichshain neighborhood of Berlin. She makes a variety of meaty stuffed items – from small sausage links to large beanbag chairs in the shape of a ham bone. And since they’re made from fabric and thread, they’re all vegetarian (and kosher)!

-Gaby

image from aufschnitt.net

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