The preparation of the meal was in ancient times a very simple process. The principal articles of diet were bread and milk, to which were added, as supplementary dishes, fruits and vegetables (compare Baking and Milk). Meat was eaten only on festivals; and many vegetables, such as cucumbers, garlic, leek, onions, etc., were eaten raw. Lentils (Gen. xxv. 29; II Sam. xvii. 28) or greens (II Kings iv. 38 et seq.) were boiled in either water or oil. Fruit was often dried and compressed into solid, cake-like masses, making raisin-cake, fig-cake, etc. (I Sam. xxv. 18, xxx. 12; II Sam. xvi. 1, etc.; compare the "ḳamr al-din," or flat cake of compressed apricots, still popular among the Syrians); and a kind of sirup, or Honey ("debash") was sometimes extracted from it. A kind of porridge was made from corn by adding water, salt, and butter ("'arisah," probably the "'arsan" of the Talmud, which was a paste prepared of crushed and malted grain); and from this many kinds of cakes were made with oil and fruits (II Sam. xiii. 6 et seq.; Num xi. 8; Ex. xxix. 2, etc.; see the importance of these cakes in later sacrificial ceremonies, as mentioned, for example, in Lev. ii.).
Meat, in ancient times, was usually boiled, and was consequently thus served at the table of
It is not surprising that Jewish cookery possesses characteristics of its own which differentiate it from ordinary cookery. The dietary and ceremonial laws to which orthodox Jews conform have naturally evolved a particular kind of culinary art. The institution of the Passover, the distinction between permitted and forbidden foods, the regulations as to butter and meat, and the custom of abstaining from meat at certain seasons, have all contributed to make Jewish cookery distinctive. But the preparation of food for the table is a matter which will always be influenced by local conditions. Every country and district has its favorite dishes, largely dependent upon its particular food products. Hence, Jews have carried with them, wherever they have wandered, the styles of cookery prevailing in the countries from which they have migrated. Thus in England old-fashioned Jews, who retain the customs of the ghetto, are comparative strangers to the plain English roast, boiled, and grilled meats, preferring the more savory dishes of the Continent. From Spain and Portugal they have derived, along with their fondness for olives, their custom of frying fish and other foods in oil. From Germany they have taken the habit of sour-stewing and sweet-stewing meats. To Holland they owe a taste for pickled cucumbers and herrings, and from the same country come such Jewish dainties as butter cakes and "bolas" (jamrolls). From Poland, on the other hand, Jewish immigrants have brought into their new homes "lokschen" or "frimsel" soup (cooked with goose fat), stuffed fish, and various kinds of stewed fish. In this way almost all varieties of Jewish cookery are reproduced in an English form, to which this article is mainly confined.
Another influence has to be noted. The stringency of the dietary laws has combined with the peculiar domesticity of Jewish life to make cooking the special business of Jewish wives and daughters. It has thus been raised to the character of a fine art, even among the humblest classes. In the ghettos of Jewry no housewife would think of relegating the preparation of meals to a servant. Only by attending to them herself can she satisfy her consciencethat such ritual requirements as the "kashering" of meat, the keeping apart of butter and meat, and the separation of "ḥallah" (the bread-offering) have been duly complied with. The kitchen has, therefore, always been regarded among orthodox Jews as the chief province of a Jewish housewife, and to her supremacy in this region the Scriptural words "The king's daughter is all glorious within" (Ps. xlv. 13) have not inaptly been applied. In times gone by, especially when the facilities of travel were few, the male members of a Jewish family whose vocations took them away from home would be exposed to many privations. Thus the responsibilities of Jewish housewives would be heightened. They would exercise their ingenuity to the utmost so that on the return of the breadwinners their hardships might be forgotten in the enjoyment of appetizing dishes. The influence of the dietary laws and ceremonial customs on Jewish cookery can be further traced in the details of the kitchen.Passover Cookery.
The institution of the Passover, with its commandment to abstain during the festival from eating leavened bread, has had the natural effect of developing special kinds and methods of cooking appropriate to that period. The unleavened bread is not merely a staple article of food, but an ingredient of almost every Passover dish. "Maẓẓah klös" (dumpling) soup takes the place of lokshen for this week, and an immense variety of sweet cakes and puddings, manufactured from ground maẓẓah meal, replaces the confectionery and pastries of ordinary occasions. Fish, instead of being fried in a batter, is cooked with meal. An excellent flour can be made of potatoes, and Jewish cooks make use of it for pastries during Passover. All dishes which can be made from eggs are in special request, and this accounts for the popularity of almond pudding as a Jewish delicacy. Jews are also debarred during Passover from drinking malt liquor, which has to be replaced by such beverages as sassafras and lemonade.Fish.
From very early times, as far back even as their sojourn in Egypt (Num. xi. 5), Jews have shown a strong liking for fish, and have developed special skill in its preparation. There are many reasons for this preference: (1) The necessity of abstaining from meat not killed according to Jewish law makes them particularly dependent upon fish. (2) It is not regarded as meat, and can therefore be eaten in conjunction with butter. (3) There are seasons, such as the "Nine Days," when strict Jews abstain from meat altogether. (4) The eating of fish has always been associated with the celebration of the Sabbath. From no orthodox table is fish absent at one or more of the Sabbath meals, however difficult it may be to procure. In inland countries like Poland, Jews are limited to fresh-water fish.
There are several distinctively Jewish modes of preparing fish, and English Jews have paid special attention to their practise. Anglo-Jewish methods of cooking fish were first introduced by Portuguese Jews, and copied by German Jews. Their favorite fish is salmon, which is either fried, white-stewed, or brown-stewed. Fish, white-stewed, with lemon and bread balls, is a specifically Jewish preparation, typical of their fondness for piquant stews in preference to the plain preparation common in non-Jewish families. Smoked salmon is another Jewish delicacy, and this, together with pickled herrings, pickled (yellow) cucumbers, and olives, is often to be seen on Jewish tables as appetizing adjuncts to fried fish.Preparation of Meat; Butter and Meat.
The principal concern in the preparation of food for a Jewish table is compliance with the ritual requirements for Kasher meat. Orthodox Jews will not partake of meat unless, in addition to having been killed in accordance with rabbinical law, it has been entirely drained of blood. Therefore, before being cooked, it needs to be steeped in water for half an hour. On being taken out it is laid on a perforated board, sprinkled lightly with salt, and left for one hour. At the end of this time the salt is washed off (see Meliḥah). Meat may not be cooked with butter or milk. Oil, and certain portions of the fat of clean animals (the or kasher fat, as distinguished from the , or ṭerefah fat), are the only fats that may be used. So far as cookery is concerned, the distinction between butter and meat necessitates the use of a double set of utensils. Some Jews have two kitchens, one for meat and one for butter; and two separate dressers are common. Jewish cooks are debarred from using butter in pastries, which are to be eaten in conjunction with meats, and from using milk or cream under the same circumstances. For butter, melted fat must be substituted, while cream may be imitated in a variety of ways. One reason why almond pudding is a favorite in Anglo-Jewish households is that it does not require either meat or butter, and can therefore be eaten at any meal.Sabbath Preparations.
Notice must be taken of the special preparations made for the Sabbath. The Sabbath dish par excellence is the "kugel." Orthodox Jews not being permitted to cook on the Sabbath, their ingenuity has been much taxed to provide hot food for the day of rest. In the height of summer, cold meats are acceptable enough. The difficulty is to provide hot dishes in winter, and it has been overcome by the preparation of a dish known as "kugel." It consists, generally, of meat stewed with peas and beans, and placed in the oven before Sabbath. The fire having been made up, and the oven firmly closed, the dish requires no further attention, and will retain its heat until it is wanted for the Sabbath midday meal. The term "shalet" (see "sholent" in the article Cookery in Eastern Europe) is used in some parts of Europe to designate what has just been described as kugel, while "kugel" is used as the name of a variety of shalet containing much fat; in other parts (e.g., Bavaria) "shalet" is used of a sort of baked pudding; e.g., maẓẓah, apple, nudel, or almond shalet. The form "shulet" also occurs, as in Bohemia, to indicate the "gesetztes essen" called "kugel" in the beginning of this paragraph. "Shalet" is explained by some authorities as a corruption of the German "schul ende," that being the name of a pudding which is prepared on Friday, to be ready when Sabbathmorning or afternoon service is over. Others derive it from ("that which remains [in the oven] overnight"), the final "t" being the German ending. The real derivation is probably from the Old French "chauld" (warm). The prohibition against cooking on Sabbath explains why fried fish, being primarily a Sabbath dish, is eaten by Jews cold, whereas other people eat it hot. Stewed fish is, of course, also eaten cold.
A prominent feature of Sabbath cookery is the preparation of twists of bread, which are known as "ḥallahs" or, as in southern Germany, Austria, and Hungary, as "barches." They are often covered with seeds to represent manna, which fell in a double portion on the sixth day. One other item remaining to be mentioned is raisin wine. Jews are required to offer over a cup of wine the Sabbath prayer for the sanctification of food. But in many countries wine is too expensive a luxury for the majority of Jewish families. A cheap preparation, made of boiled raisins, is therefore substituted, which, though it is far from resembling wine, satisfies all the requirements of the ritual.
- A Jewish Manual of Cookery, edited by a lady, Boone, 1826;
- Aunt Sarah's Cookery Book for a Jewish Kitchen, Liverpool, 1872; 2d ed., 1889;
- Mrs. J. Atrutel, Book of Jewish Cookery, London, 1874;
- May Henry and Edith Cohen, The Economical Cook, London, 1889;
- Aunt Babette's Cook Book, Cincinnati, 1890.
- The last contains a number of Jewish recipes, but is not restricted to Jewish cookery.
Most of the dishes cooked by the Jews in eastern Europe are akin to those of the nations among whom they dwell. Thus the kasha and blintzes of the Russian Jews, the mamaliga of the Rumanians, the paprika of the Hungarians, are dishes adopted by the Jews from their Gentile neighbors. Only on religious and ceremonial occasions do they cook peculiarly Jewish dishes.
The food prepared on Friday for the Sabbath is called sholent (the Russian equivalent of "shalet"). The most popular form of sholent is made of potatoes placed in the pot with meat, fat, and water. The potatoes appear on the table on Saturday glistening with fat, and are of a dark, brownish color. Some even consider them not alone palatable, but an excellent remedy for various ills. The commonest form of sholent is the kugel, a kind of pudding made of almost any article of food; the magenkugel and the lokshen-kugel are two favorite varieties. The former consists of an animal's stomach filled with flour, fat, and chopped meat, peppered and salted to taste. The latter is made of lokshen; often raisins and spices are added. It is cut as ordinary pudding. Other kugels are compounded of rice, potatoes, carrots, etc. Lokshen consists of flour and eggs made into dough, rolled into sheets, and then cut into long strips. Macaroni is an excellent substitute for it. Cut into small squares, these strips are called "farfil." They are usually boiled and served with soup. On the day preceding Tish'ah Be'ab, milchige lokshen is eaten. This is ordinary lokshen boiled in milk.
Ẓimes, or compote, consists generally of cooked fruits, such as plums (flaumen ẓimes), or of vegetables, well spiced. The most popular vegetable is the carrot (mehren ẓmies), which is cleaned and cut into small slices, and boiled in water for about three hours. The water is then poured off and mixed with flour, sugar, and cinnamon. The carrot is then replaced, a fat piece of meat, preferably from the breast, added, and the concoction is again cooked for two or three hours. Turnips are also extensively used for ẓimes, particularly in Lithuania. In southern Russia, Galicia, and Rumania ẓimes is made of pears, apples, figs, prunes, etc. It is then somewhat like a compound of stewed fruits.
Another dish for Saturday is called petshai in Lithuania, drelies in South Russia, Galicia, and Rumania. This consists of cow's or calf's leg prepared in a special manner. The hair is burned off, and the leg is then thoroughly cleaned, and cut into pieces of a convenient size. These are placed in a pot with water, and pepper, salt, and onions are added. Then it is placed in the oven just as are the other sholent dishes. When it is removed from the oven on Saturday morning, it is either served hot, or it is distributed in plates, hard-boiled eggs being sliced into it, and it is put in a cool place. When served in the evening for "shalesh se'udot," it is a semi-solid mass, in which the meat is embedded. Drelies is made by adding soft-boiled eggs and also some vinegar as soon as it is removed from the oven, when it is served hot.
Soups are naturally the great standby of the poor. The best known of these is the krupnik, made of oatmeal, potatoes, and fat. This is the staple food of the poor students of the yeshibot; in richer families meat is added to this soup.
Kreplech or krepchen is another dish peculiar to eastern European Jews. It is prepared in the following manner: Flour and eggs are mixed into a dough. This is rolled into sheets and cut into three-inch squares. On each square of dough is placed fine-chopped meat, to which salt, pepper, and onions are added. The edges of the rolled dough are then brought together and well pasted. This is then placed in a soup previously prepared for the purpose. This kreplech is eaten at least three times a year by every pious Jew—on Purim, on the day preceding the Day of Atonement, and on Hosha'na Rabbah. On occasions when meat is not eaten, chopped cheese is placed inside the kreplech.
At weddings "golden" soup is always served. The only reason for its name is probably the yellow circular pieces of chicken fat floating on its surface.
The preparations of fish made by the eastern European Jews are famous even among the Gentiles, the most popular being the gefillte (filled fish). This is prepared thus: After undergoing the usual processes of cleaning and washing, the fish is cut into two or three parts. The bones are then taken out, the skin is removed, and the meat is chopped fine, eggs, salt, pepper, and onions being added. This mass is then replaced in the skin, dropped into boiling water, and cooked for about three hours.
Besides the very popular dish of groats calledkrupnik, and many other grit soups, which are also common among non-Jews, there are still a number of soups which are more or less characteristically Jewish. The soup into which "kneidlach" (= "knoedel," dumplings) are put, is the dish used most often on Saturdays, holidays, and other special occasions, particularly at Passover, when it corresponds to the "maẓẓah kloes" of western Europe. The expression "Me meint nit di Haggadah nor di kneidlach" (It is not the Haggadah that we like so much as the dumplings) owes its origin to the great favor this soup has attained among the Jews of eastern Europe. The kneidlach in most cases are made by grinding maẓẓahs into flour, and adding eggs, water, melted fat, pepper, and salt. This mixture is then rolled into balls about one and one-half inches in diameter. The kneidlach are then put into the soup, and it is ready to be served about half an hour after. Often the kneidlach are fried in fat and served apart from the soup. Another kind of kneidlach, made from mashed potatoes put into warm milk, forms a well-liked soup among Lithuanian Jews. The village folk of some parts of eastern Europe have still another form of soup, which is made by putting crisp "beigel" (round cracknel) into hot water and adding butter. Because of its nutritious qualities it is called michyeh, a corruption of the Hebrew word "miḥyah" (i.e., food κατ' ἑξοχέν; compare the Latin "victus"). There are, however, a number of soups in the preparation of which neither meat nor even fat is used. Such soups form the food of the poor classes. An expression current among Jews of eastern Europe, "soup mit nisht" (soup with nothing), owes its origin to dissatisfaction with soups of this kind.
There are a number of sour soups, called borshtsh, the most popular of which is the "kraut," or cabbage, borshtsh, which is made by cooking together cabbage, meat, bones, onions, raisins, sour salts, sugar, and sometimes tomatoes. Before serving, the yolks of eggs are mixed with the borshtsh. This last process is called "farweissen" (to make white). Borshtsh is also made from the beet-root and "rossel" (the juice derived from the beet).
Gebrattens (roasted meat), chopped meat, and essig fleish (vinegar meat) are the favorite forms in which meats are prepared. The essig or, as it is sometimes called, "honnig," or "sauer fleish," is made by adding to meat which has been partially roasted some fish-cake, sugar, bay-leaves, English pepper, raisins, sour salts, and a little vinegar.
Fat of cattle, because of its cheapness, is used in the preparation of a great number of dishes. The fat of geese and chickens is used only on special occasions, but is kept in readiness for use when needed. Fat, being used so freely during Passover, is prepared in quantities long before that feast, in many cases as early as Ḥannukah (in December).
Gribenes, or "scraps," form one of the best liked foods among the Jews of eastern Europe. It is eaten especially on the Feast of Ḥannukah. So much do the Jews share in the belief "that there is no flavor comparable with the tawny and well-watched scraps," that it is often suggested as an inducement to friends to make a visit.
Jews of eastern Europe bake both black ("proster," or "ordinary") bread and white bread, or ḥallah. Of great interest are the various forms into which these breads are made; for while the black bread is usually circular in form, the shapes in which ḥallah is baked vary as the different holidays pass by. The most common form of the ḥallahs is the twist ("koilitch" or "kidke"). The koilitch is oval in form, and about one and a half feet in length. On special occasions, such as weddings, the koilitch is increased to a length of about two and a half feet. Some are made in miniature for the small boys, as an inducement to say the "ḳiddush" (bread benediction) which is required on Friday night.Bread and Cakes.
The dough of ḥallah is often shaped into forms having symbolical meanings; thus on New-Year rings and coins are imitated, indicating "May the new year be as round and complete as these"; for Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) the ḥallah, which on that occasion is circular, carries a piece of dough in imitation of a dove, the significance being "May our sins be carried away by the dove." Ḥallah is also baked in the form of a ladder for Yom Kippur, expressing thereby the desire, "May our prayers climb up to heaven"; for Hosha'na Rabbah, bread is baked in the form of a key, meaning "May the door of heaven open to admit our prayers." The Haman tash, a kind of a turnover filled with honey and black poppy-seed, is eaten on the Feast of Purim, but probably has no special meaning.
The mohn kiḥel, a circular or rectangular wafer having in it a quantity of poppy, forms a part of the Sabbath breakfast. Pirushkes, or turnovers, are little cakes fried in honey, or sometimes merely dipped in molasses, after they are baked. The strudel, or single-layered jelly or fruit cake, takes the place of the pie for dessert. Teigachz, or pudding, of which the kugel is one variety, is usually made from rice, noodles, "farfel" (dough crums), and even mashed potatoes. Gehakte herring (chopped herring). which is usually served as the first dish at the Sabbath dinner, is made by skinning a few herrings and chopping them together with hard-boiled eggs, onions, apples, sugar, pepper, and a little vinegar.Savories and Candies.
Teiglach and ingberlach are the two popular home-made candies. The teiglach are made by frying in honey pieces of dough about the size of a marble, the dough being mixed with sugar and ginger. The ingberlach are ginger candies made into either small sticks or rectangles. Jellies are made from all juices of fruits, and are used for different purposes; they are used in making pastry and are often served with tea. Among the poorer classes jellies are reserved for the use of invalids and patients, and so well has the practise of making jelly solely for that purpose been established, that often the words "Allewai zol men dos nit darfen" (May we not have occasion to use it) are repeated before storing it away.