What on earth would you cook Heston Blumenthal for dinner? This was the conundrum faced by Rabbi Sybil Sheridan which she recounted on a new food blog set up by members of Wimbledon and District Synagogue.
Rabbi Sheridan — one of the community’s two female rabbis — told of her reaction after her husband, — Maidenhead Synagogue’s Rabbi Jonathan Romain — announced that he had invited the Michelin-starred chef to their home.
A group of synagogue members — all keen cooks — have inadvertently hit upon a very 21st-century way of engaging with their community while swapping their recipes and those of their mothers and grandmothers.
Last June, they launched a blog of recipes and articles about food and Jewish life. But they hadn’t set out to be so innovative.
“We wanted to write a cookbook, to raise money for the synagogue. Not only recipes but also advice for community events, cooking for a crowd, how to use food to help children learn about celebrating Shabbat and festivals,” says Liz Ison, the blog’s editor.
She adds that they wanted to make the project a communal experience, with recipe and tips from synagogue members — “recipes from the diverse range of cooking traditions that make up our community” .
In the planning stages, one of the group — keen baker Eleri Larkum — suggested they set up a blog as part of the cookery book project.
Ison admits she and the rest of the committee were not initially struck by the idea. “There were a lot of mystified looks. I thought what’s the point of putting all of our recipes online? Who will buy the book if they can get them all free?”
But it only took a few days for Ison and the others to identify the immediate benefits.
Ison says she had already seen how useful food could be to engage people. “My three children all attended the Apples and Honey Nursery based at the synagogue. The nursery head, Judith Ish Horowicz, is an inspirational educator and I saw first hand from her how food and cooking can be a way of learning about Judaism and Jewish life. My children baked challah there very Friday — a highlight of their week — and I got involved in preparing the big bucket of dough for the weekly bake-in,” she smiles.
“I realised a blog would be a great tool to share among ourselves — and the wider blogosphere — who we are and what we do, and writing about what we like to eat and cook.”
She and the rest of the group were converted to the idea of transforming their plans from the fund-raising book to something that would benefit their lively community. And Wimshulcooks was born.
Nursery head Horowicz has played a pivotal role in the birth of the blog. “She’s sort of like a saint — she knows everyone in the congregation and has brought most of the people involved in the blog committee to this project,” says Ison.
The nine women on the team behind the blog reflect a wide range of talents and backgrounds within the synagogue’s community. There are Sephardim and Ashkenazim, photographers, editors, nutritionists and educators, all with a passion for food and cooking.
Ison ensures that an entry is posted on average once a week. “Since we set up we have published over 30 articles and the blog has had over 2,500 views in more than 30 countries,” she says proudly.
She is about to add rainbow biscuits (see recipe right) made by the children at Playshul — the pre-school section of the synagogue’s cheder to learn about the story of Joseph.
Both of the synagogue’s rabbis have embraced Wimshulcooks, adding their own foodie experiences. Rabbi Sheridan shared her Heston Blumenthal experience, while Rabbi Silvia Rothschild provided challah recipe, describing how she shapes her weekly sermon while waiting for the bread to rise and prove.
“The blog has become a way of staying in touch with members who don’t come to synagogue often,” explains Ison. “And it helps us engage with former members who have moved to other towns or countries.”
The blog has also spawned events like their honey cake tasting for Rosh Hashanah. “Everyone baked two cakes — one to taste and a second to give to someone who was unable to cook their own,” says Ison.
“One of our committee members, Claudia Camhi, bakes award-winning almond cakes professionally — and even created a recipe especially for the event.”
Nursery children and staff, synagogue office staff, the adult learning group and baby and toddler group all came along and shared the experience together.
“We think we’ve stumbled upon a great tool for increasing community engagement,” smiles Ison, who says they still plan to produce their book in the future.
Find out what the Rabbi fed Heston, read a recipe from Claudia Roden and join the synagogue’s hamentaschen bake-in only at Wimshulcooks.wordpress.com