25 August 2010

Food: Have teiglach, will travel

Another aspect of family history is to learn about our ancestors' food traditions.

As our families moved from country to country, they brought along their favorite recipes along with their possessions. Sometimes the recipes needed adaptation as the original ingredients could not be found, thus creating a new tradition. The story of Jewish food is the story of Jewish history.

This JTA story, "Exploring Jewish ancestry through food" by Linda Morel, demonstrates one woman's experiences.

Tina Wasserman, a cooking teacher and the food columnist for Reform Judaism magazine, didn’t literally transport clumps of the sticky pastries whose dough is wrapped around nuts and simmered in honey syrup. But among her most cherished possessions, she packed her recipe for the traditional Rosh Hashanah sweet hailing from Lithuania.

“No one had seen it down here,” said Wasserman, the author of "Entree to Judaism: A Culinary Exploration of the Jewish Diaspora (URJ Press, 2010), until she served the dessert to her new friends.

She then introduced the recipe in cooking classes. Before long, teiglach became part of the Jewish culinary scene in Dallas.

Said Wasserman, she wanted to create a link to our ancestry through food as it is the most direct connection to memory in our brain.

For her book, she began collecting recipes based on the question of what makes a specific food Jewish from a historical viewpoint. The laws of Kashrut and Shabbat and holiday observances impacted the foods we have eaten throughout history.

Caponata, an Italian appetizer of eggplants, tomatoes and peppers, is a 500-year-old Shabbt dish from Spain. Following the 1492 Expulsion, thousands of Jews left Spain for Sicily. One year later, they were expelled and 40,000 of them fled to mainland Italy across the Straits of Messina and brought the recipe with them.

Each recipe in the book includes its origins, when and why it was eaten and brought it to a new life in a diffeernt part of the world.

Says Wasserman, some Ashkenazim eat kreplach at Rosh Hashanah, because during the Middle Ages, Central and Eastern European Jews sealed their wishes in little dough pouches and wore them as amulets. So as not to waste the food, they put it into soup. She maintains that most of our food customs date from the Middle Ages.

The article includes much more, and a pointer to Wasserman's website, Cooking and More, which creates a community around food.

The article includes recipes for Dulce de Manzana (Apple Preserves), Syrian Eggplant with Pomegranate Molasses, Ethiopian-style Lubiya (Sephardic Black-Eyed Peas), and Sweet Potato-Pumpkin Caszuela.

Read the complete article, see photos of two of the dishes, and check out Wasserman's website.

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