Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Gefilte Variations, by Jayne Cohen

OK. A little change of pace here. Ever since I read Miriam's Kitchen the inner foodie in me has harbored a deep passion for books that find a way to combine narrative and recipe. The Gefilte Variations, published in 1990, is a gem I came across during one of my obsessive library searches a few years ago. I took a chance on it, despite its boring cover, and boy did I strike gold.

Let me be absolutely clear: I have not tried a single recipe from this book! I'm not even a "recipe girl." My standard kitchen operating procedure is to dump and mix and experiment. But even without trying the recipes, I've found much to savor within this cookbook's pages; For me, it's the prose that's delicious. The author precedes every recipe with at least a paragraph of text, sometime simply discussing different aspects of the recipe, but more often extrapolating and linking the dish and its cuisine to her own family's history. This cookbook, published in black and white, doesn't pack the the visual "bam" of say, the Kosher by Design cookbook series. It has a spare, simple appeal and is sprinkled with a variety of small sepia-tinged photos, some of which evoke a recipe's geographical provenance, while others showcase Jewish memorabilia that add to the book's feeling of nostalgia.

Here's a "taste" of what I mean. This is the first paragraph of an entire page that links the recipe, "Flanken with Tart Greens", to family remembrance: "My grandmother had flanken. I don't mean she consumed prodigious amounts of it, or that she served up her superb version often, though both are true. I refer, instead, to her arms. Her dark olive skin was perfectly smooth and taut across her elegant face. But the soft flesh from her gently sloping shoulders to her wide, tired feet hung in rounded folds like an old shower curtain." See what I mean? Fabulous.

In her introductory notes, the author describes the scope of her kosher cookbook (subjective, not comprehensive) and her take on Jewish food (bubbe cuisine!). Then she divides the book into two parts. The first part is divided into chapters on menu categories that feature Jewish favorites from all parts of the globe: Soups, Meats, Dairy Dishes, etc. The second part has chapters on each of the Jewish holidays. Cohen concludes the book with suggested menus for Shabbos, the holidays, and special brunches.

As I finished writing this and closed up Gefilte Variations, I noticed I held the book close to my chest, like I was embracing a small, precious child. Don't let the blah cover fool you - what's inside is delectable.

By the way, Happy Purim! As a community service, let me pass along the pre-Purim tip of the day: Should you still be baking, Marsh is out of that (disgusting) poppy seed filling that my I-already-eat-like-a-Jewish-grandpa husband loves, but you can still find several cans at Kroger.

Oh. One more thing. I am the only Jew around here who bristles at the displays of Passover food that appear even before the Purim hamantaschen have been baked? Not that I'm ungrateful that we are blessed with such a fine selection of Pesadiche foods, but I find myself sympathizing with the autumn lament of my Christian friends when they witness the Christmas displays set up even before the Thanksgiving turkey has been defrosted!

Next weeks reviews: The Help, Her Fearful Symmetry and much more!

No comments:

Post a Comment