Cooking and good food are central to Jewish life. Our calendar is studded with a glorious variety of festivals and holidays. Some of them are serious occasions; others are more fun. But they all have one thing in common — a celebratory shared meal with a signature dish chosen for its religious connections. And behind each one is a Jewish mother, a matriarch capable of creating classic, delicious meals at a moment’s notice on a regular, almost daily basis.
The song of Songs says “comfort me with apples”, and surely has resonance for all of us. There is nothing like walking through an orchard when ripe fruit hangs heavy off the tree. The thing to do is to cook some of the apples straight away, simply stewing them, maybe with fresh blackberries. Or choose the largest, fattest Bramleys and hollow out their cores, cutting their skins and stuffing them with mixed spice, dried fruit and marmalade. Then bake them in a little water until the tops are golden and the centres puffy and fragrant — that is certainly comforting.
Can you imagine a seven-year-old asking you to buy beetroot or red cabbage? Or a 12-year-old offering you a soothing cup of fresh ginger tea while he makes dinner?
When you think of children’s cookbooks the images that come to mind are of cakes studded with Smarties or chocolate Rice Krispies. The writers seem to think children can only be enticed into the kitchen with a promise of sugar-laden treats.
Buckwheat, part of our Eastern European food heritage, is a living anomaly. For it bears no relation to wheat and although it’s considered a grain, it isn’t really — rather, it is a type of grass-seed called an achene.
It began its history in South East Asia around 6000 BCE, quickly spreading to Central Asia, Tibet and finally to Europe in about 4000 BCE.
The taste of freshly baked sunflower seeds and roasted nuts, typically bought in 100g brown paper bags from kiosks, provides one of the greatest pleasures of Israeli street cuisine.
It is Jerusalem’s version of the hot chestnut men who used to ply their wares in the streets of London. Such is the demand among Israeli ex-pats in the UK that kosher stores and some supermarkets are now stocking seeds, known in Hebrew as garinim.
When I was a small child, I was always told by my grandmother to “Eat your fish — it gives brains”. My imagination would run riot as I visualised small pieces of fish somehow forcing themselves into my head. As I grew older, I still tried to heed her advice, but with an air of teenage scepticism. Now with grandchildren of my own and a nutrition qualification under my belt, I am able re-examine that old wives’ tale.
The height of summer has to be the time for drinking the best white wines you can get you hands on.
Trying to find a fine white wine — one that would fit a formal and elegant setting — is much more difficult than finding a comparable red.
In the kosher market, where inferior whites abound, the search can be wearying. Part of the reason is that many of the better whites made in Israel are produced in relatively small quantities and are rarely exported to the UK.
Falafel can be controversial — there is dispute over where it came from, whether it should be made from chickpeas or in the Egyptian way with broad beans, and there is even a simmering argument between Israelis and Palestinians over its ownership — both claim it as their national dish.
She may be the only Jew in the village. But that hasn’t stopped Elizabeth Weisberg creating a voracious appetite for challah, bagels and hamantaschen in the very English rural hinterland of East Sussex.
Many merely buy the ethnic goodies made at the Lighthouse Bakery from local food shops in Lewes, Winchelsea and Rye, but others shlep to the tucked-away hamlet of Bodiam to bake the bread themselves. Hundreds of gentiles, as well as Jews, it seems, have been driven to discover why you need to boil a bagel to get the authentic shine and chew, and how to plait a Shabbat loaf.