It was just last month that I read an article in our local newspaper, written by Judy Bart Kancigor, about this book. [As an aside, I have one of Kancigor’s recipes here on my blog already – one of my favorites, a Layered Hummus & Eggplant appetizer.] Hardly before I’d finished reading the newspaper article, I went to my amazon account and added the book to my wish list. Thank you, Sara, for buying it for me for Christmas!
This book, Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival is a treasure; there just are no other words for it. I’m not Jewish, and I don’t necessarily cook Jewish food as such, but I am always intrigued about the stories behind ethnic dishes. One of Kancigor’s mantras is “you don’t have to be Jewish to cook Jewish.” Yes! Until now, I’ve never owned a Jewish cookbook. Now I do, and I’m glad of it. Not only because of the history contained within the book, but because I’m grateful in some small way – happy – humbled – to honor all those souls who didn’t survive the Holocaust.
So, what’s this book all about? The writer (editor and writer), June Feiss Hersch, interviewed countless families in the process of compiling the stories and recipes in this cookbook. Earlier, she approached the Director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage (in New York City), with the germ of an idea, to publish a cookbook of stories and associated recipes from Holocaust survivors. An aside: all the proceeds from the book go to the museum. It’s already into its 4th printing.
The recipes cover a broad Eastern European geography (ethnic and physical) including Poland, Austria, Greece, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Russia and the Ukraine. And at the back is a lengthy list of Yiddish words, pages I referred to often, since I didn’t know the meaning of words like schmuts (dirt), cholent (a sacred stew prepared on Friday, baked overnight in a community bakery oven, to be eaten on Saturday), shtikel (morsel); and bashert (fated). I loved learning some of these new words (aside from other Yiddish words I did know: schlep, maven, nosh, kibbitz, mentsh, and shul).
As I write this, I’ve only read about half the book – I’m not even through reading the chapter on Poland (obviously there are more Polish recipes than those from other countries). But I’m awed by the stories. The true stories of survival, about the Crystal Night (when over 1,000 synagogues were burned to the ground and over 7,000 Jewish business destroyed), about people who hid in cupboards, cellars, forests, barns and other places to avoid the ghettos and concentration camps. But it’s also stories about people who did survive concentration camps (mostly ones who were interned there later in the war) or work camps. About those few who had skills the Nazis needed and wanted so they were fed better than some. About how prisoners hid food for others. About how they kept their spirits alive. About how they survived. About meeting other survivors, about first loves, marriages, boat trips to Israel, or America or Canada. About the yearning to live and thrive. About how some survivors would never – ever – talk about their wartime experiences – or shared them only at the end of their lives. And about how these proud Jewish people honor their loved ones by preparing the family recipes regularly.
Each country chapter contains numerous stories (told from the actual survivor or a spouse or grown child) along with a photo or two about the family. About where they were from, their years of trying to escape, and managing to survive either in the dense forests with virtually no food, or in the concentration camps. And, thankfully, about their liberation and emigration somewhere else. Then, following that is a recipe, or two. Most of them are the actual recipes from the Holocaust survivor, or a descendant; a few are creations or re-creations from celebrated Jewish chefs (like Faye Levy, Mark Bittman, Daniel Boulud, Gale Gand, Ina Garten, Jonathan Waxman, Joan Nathan, Sara Moulton, and others).
In my copy, several recipes have been yellow-stickied already, and this week you’ll read about the first one I made from this book – a braised red cabbage and apple dish. Nothing fancy, but oh, so very delicious. Next I plan to make a Chocolate Chip Cake, and a Citrus Rice Pudding. Then maybe I’ll try one of the cholent recipes in the book. I’m intrigued about a 24-hour, slow-roasted stew.
Obviously, I highly recommend this book. If you enjoy reading stories, then a recipe to go along with it, you’ll be mesmerized by the book, as I’ve been.