More feasts for fressers

The women from Sydney's Monday Morning Cooking Club are back with more kosher recipes from the Australian diaspora

By Victoria Prever, August 28, 2014
Ladies of the Monday Morning Cooking Club, from left:  Natanya Eskin, Paula Horwitz, Jacqui Israel, Lisa Goldberg, Lauren Fink and Merelyn Chalmers

Ladies of the Monday Morning Cooking Club, from left: Natanya Eskin, Paula Horwitz, Jacqui Israel, Lisa Goldberg, Lauren Fink and Merelyn Chalmers

Not many people can make gefilte fish look good.

Lisa Goldberg, Merelyn Chalmers and the other members of the Monday Morning Cooking Club (MMCC) - Natanya Eskin, Lauren Fink, Paula Horwitz and Jacqui Israel - have managed it in their second charity cookbook - Monday Morning Cooking Club: the feast goes on.

Goldberg and Chalmers - talking from Goldberg's Sydney home - are bursting with childish excitement over the success of the project. This and their first book, Monday Morning Cooking Club: the food, the stories, the sisterhood, has taken up much of their time for the past eight years.

"We love to share this project as it's from our heart and soul," says Goldberg, the founder of the group.

Both volumes are crammed with mouth-wateringly photographed kosher recipes, donated by the Australian diaspora. The MMCC - which meets each Monday morning - have tasted, tested and selected each dish.

The Feast Goes On features 115 recipes from 70 new contributors. There is a smattering of traditional favourites plus a vast range of international influences - from Turkish baked beans, Malaysian Barramundi and Lubiya-Sephardi soup to beetroot jam, Russian blintzes and matzah kugel. Each recipe includes a note from the contributor about their background and the recipe's provenance.

Finding new cooks was not difficult.

"When we toured doing cooking demonstrations from the first book, we had people running up to us to offer recipes for a second," laughs Goldberg. "By the end of the tour we had a list of names and addresses across the country."

Australia's Jewish community is concentrated in Sydney and Melbourne, but the outlying communities proved plentiful sources of recipes.

"People in Australia's smaller Jewish communities like Adelaide and Perth were very enthusiastic to be part of the project," says Chalmers.

Recipes flooded in online and from friends and acquaintances. Submissions were not always written.

"We got a few post packs of baked goods. We would open a packet and out would waft the smell of freshly baked biscuits," smiles Chalmers.

Working out how to cook submitted recipes correctly was not always obvious.

"For the honey biscuits, for example, we weren't sure how to get the recipe right. Every batch was different. So we asked the contributor, Ruth Breckler, to send her version. When we tasted them we thought 'Ah, that's how they're meant to be' and we then knew how to write the recipe."

Although they had a rule no one from the first book could contribute to the second, the MMCC ladies did contribute two or three recipes each.

"We each thought of a person dear to us, some who had died. We all brought those special people to the book and shared their recipes," says Goldberg.

In the book's introduction, they each share the story of women close to their hearts who, they write, "stands beside us in the kitchen, either literally or spiritually".

This and the personal stories with each recipe give the book an intimate feel. Chalmers and Goldberg confess they all felt responsible for publishing each recipe in a way that would make each contributor proud.

"We sent every recipe back for approval, as we wanted all of our cooks to be happy. Part of what we're doing is preserving our recipes and those from the older generation for the future, and at the same time, respecting their provenance," says Goldberg.

Choosing recipes was sometimes contentious.

"There was lots of debate when we chose the final ones," says Chalmers.

The MMCC members set down four rules: each recipe had to be achievable by anyone - whether novice or experienced cook; the book needed a balance of savoury and sweet dishes; the group had to unanimously agree on every recipe - although if one member felt particularly strongly about a recipe she could fight for it; and finally, a beautiful story could elevate a recipe to inclusion.

Towards the end of the selection process, they went away together to cook and work on the book. On this retreat, they finally decided how they would organise the book, reducing it from 10 to to six categories: everyday, lunchtime, comfort, feasting, fressing and tradition. Afterwards they realised each chapter was a reflection of one of them.

Goldberg laughingly admits to being the fresser, while for Chalmers, the idea of passing on food traditions to her family rang most true for her.

They are now working on "how to" videos of some of the recipes which will be online in September. With 40,000 copies having been sold internationally, the ladies are delighted with what the book has achieved.

"We still pinch ourselves," confesses Chalmers. Monday Morning Cooking Club: The Feast Goes On, Harper Collins £25

Last updated: 10:09am, September 16 2014