Chicago residents are in for a delicious treat when culinary historian Jane Ziegelman speaks at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies on Sunday, December 19.
The talk - "When Oysters were Kosher," begins at 2pm; a book signing of Ziegelman's new book, 97 Orchard, follows.
Tickets (call 312-322-1733) are $18; $10 for Spertus members, and $8 for students.
A century ago, "Aunt Babette's Cook Book" (1889) provided a look at Reform Judaism then. Babette, in reality, was Chicago homemaker Bertha Kramer, a member of the city's Reform community.
Ziegelman's appearance is in conjunction with the Spertus exhibit - Uncovered & Rediscovered: Stories of Jewish Chicago - and she'll share Kramer's story.
The Spertus talk will focus on an affluent community wanting to assimilate and leave the ghetto, as evidenced by what they ate. The story also presents the Ziegelman's upbringing and she states that "So much of Jewish history can be told through its food."
Ziegelman, director of the New York Tenement Museum's culinary center, is the author of a new book, "97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement" (Harper Collins, $25.99).
The Chicago Jewish News carried a story by editor Pauline Dubkin Yearwood on the new book, which offers this word picture of an expertly prepared carp for Shabbat dinner:
When we first meet Natalie Gumpertz, in Jane Ziegelman's book “97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement,” it is a Friday morning in the late 1890s, and Mrs. Gumpertz is preparing a fish for Shabbat dinner that night.
The carp “lays snugly in an oblong vessel, like a newborn in a watery cradle. From our current vantage point, it looks intact. In reality, however, the fish has been surgically disassembled and reassembled. It is the kind of culinary operation worthy of the trained professional, yet the responsible party is standing in front of us, an ordinary home cook.”Who wouldn't want to go out and catch a carp after reading that?
After Mrs. Gumpertz, who immigrated to New York from Prussia in 1858, slits the fish down the middle, she scrapes the flesh from the skin, chops it, stuffs it back into the carp, lays the creation on a bed of fish bones and onions, simmers it, then, when done, moves the pot to an open window to cool.
Then, “moments before sundown, start of the Jewish Sabbath, she slices her carp crosswise into ovals and lays them on a plate. The cooking broth, rich in gelatin from the fish bones, has turned to jelly. The onion skin has tinted it gold. Mrs. Gumpertz spoons that up too, dabbing it over the fish in glistening puddles. To a hungry Jew at the end of the workweek, could any sight be more beautiful?”
Ziegelman, writesYearwood, "came into possession of what she describes as 'a whole wealth of family genealogy and history of this real-life woman who lived on Prairie Avenue (in Chicago) in the second half of the 19th century. She belonged to the world of Jewish society and she wrote this cookbook, and I use her as a kind of example of a lost culture.'”
Kramer's cookbook (Bloch Publishing, Cincinnati) was known as the "treif" (not kosher) cookbook. It included recipes for shrimp, lobster, ham, squirrel and rabbit, as well as an all-oyster supper.
For more information on "97 Orchard," read the complete article at the link above.
The new culinary program at the Tenement Museum will present immigrant chefs (professional and home cooks), cookbook authors and many other people who will be cooking together and talking about food.