Reading Jewish Social History Through Cookbooks

I have just spent two wonderful family-filled days in New York. We were celebrating the wedding of my cousin’s son with my mother’s family. And now I am sitting in the airport waiting to board my flight to Washington, DC for the Jubilee Conference of the Association of Jewish Libraries.

The topic of the conference workshop, which includes Joan Nathan, Beyhan Trock, and myself, is Reading Jewish Social History Through Cookbooks. I am excited to share the journey which my book, Food Family and tradition: Hungarian Kosher Family Recipes and Remembrances has taken me: both the culinary development and also the historical research. Just today, I visited the Center for Jewish History in New York, and promised myself to return and spend more time in their Genealogy department. The amount of historical information that has become accessible, and the keen interest which has evolved lately, continue to fascinate me. Every day, I find more information, I find more “landsmen,” people whose parents or grandparents emigrated from Hungary or Czechoslovakia. And every day, I connect with people who ask me to help them in their own quest. The dishes that were my comfort foods while growing up, which filled me with a sense of family, have awakened the same feelings of home and love in so many others.

I feel that writing my book has been a journey that will continue for the rest of my life. It is first researching Jewish Social History, which we learn from the traditional foods that I will discuss, foods that were associated with certain Jewish holidays and life events. Many of these foods and recipes developed because of produce that was indigenous to certain regions and became ripe at various times during the calendar year. My journey is also researching our Jewish history in the context of world history: what was happening in the world and its effect on the Jewish world and the Jewish people. This goes much deeper than the Holocaust and Nazi persecution. Again, it is through learning about the foods and traditional dishes that makes history become a living legacy.

I will be speaking tomorrow, and I hope to inspire my audience. Of this much I am sure: I will be inspired by everyone I meet!