Jewish Cooking in America

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

JEWISH COOKING IN AMERICA is both a history book and a culinary guide. Thirteenth in the series “Knopf Cooks American,” it embodies the series motto, “Our food tells us where we came from and who we are.” Recipes appear in the context of stories and photographs, each dish an illustration of history with its particular flavor and scent. The dietary rules for “Kosher” food are explained in an introduction which also chronicles Jewish American immigration. Nathan presents dishes in categories from appetizers to desserts, indicating whether each dish is suitable for meat or dairy meals. Basic cooking skills are assumed, and there are no “how-to” illustrations or explanations. One chapter is devoted to Passover traditions and recipes.

The variety of personalities and ethnic backgrounds is kaleidoscopic, as the Jewish diaspora from Spain to Burma is gathered into the “melting pot.” The family Bibles of Colonial peddlers, community fund-raising cookbooks, even Nathan’s own family stories yield insights and recipes from Kosher Jambalaya to Bagels. An Orthodox mother adjusts Sabbath menus to indulge her six children’s Saturday night pizza craving. One butter cookie recipe was written during World War II in the Theresienstadt concentration camp by a Czech woman who died there. Her recipes and letters passed through Czechoslovakia and Palestine to reach her daughter in America a quarter century later. Readers used to Eastern European Jewish food will be surprised by the Asian, North African, Italian, and French specialties. Even familiar American trademark foods, such as Crisco and Jello, have a place in this history.

This book will interest general cooks by its varied and unusual recipes, while giving Jewish cooks new twists on old favorites. The reader who is neither Jewish nor a cook will read history through the food stubbornly and lovingly defended and adapted through time.