Ever wondered what the women of the bible would choose to eat? Would Eve nosh up an apple crumble? What would be on Rebekah or Ruth’s menus?
Food blogger, Kenden Alfond, has given thought to just that and produced a beautiful book that combines bakes with Bible study and salads with stories; sharing stories of strong women and recipes inspired by them or in their honour.
The project was inspired over Purim 2018, when the Cambodia-based vegan food blogger invented a black bean brownie filling for her hamantaschen inspired by her Asian environment.
The triangular treats got her thinking. “Esther, the heroine of Purim is not represented when the food we prepare focuses on Haman.” Why is the recipe for the festival based on the bad guy and not Esther, the heroine of Purim? So, in the age of #metoo, Alfond chose to look at what she thought Esther may have wanted, creating a nourishing plant-based bowl of vegetables and grains for Purim in her honour.
“In this day and age, with all the produce available to us and all the knowledge we have about the impact of our food choices, is it really necessary to focus our ceremonial eating on cookies?”
Alfond,a psychotherapist and counsellor, who, with French husband, Charles Vincent, works supporting overseas aid workers, took her idea a step further, believing we could make all the food we cook for festivals more meaningful.
“I felt that by creating a nourishing grain bowl for Esther, and in reading around and learning more about her, I was deepening my knowledge of her story and, in doing so, creating a connection with her. That led to me thinking that I’d like to focus on creating food for more biblical heroines. That felt more nourishing and interesting for me, personally, than the slightly narcissistic recipes that focus on how the food is going to make you look or feel.”
She decided to pick a list of 20 women (not always the obvious characters) who had significant roles in the Hebrew Bible and pitched the idea to publisher, Turner Publishing. They loved it, and Alfond, sometimes feeling a little isolated blogging about Jewish food in South East Asia, decided she would like to collaborate with other women to create the book. She set about networking to find rabbis, recipe writers and even pupils at Jewish schools to contribute.
Not one to drag her heels — the project was completed in eight months. “When I decide to get something done I get on with it” she laughs.
She felt she needed contributions from women with a greater depth of bible knowledge than her own. “I have a limited Jewish education — I went to Hebrew school but grew up in a small Jewish community in Maine and didn’t go to a Jewish school.”
Each completed a template Alfond prepared for them for the character they would be writing about. For each character there are quotes from the Torah; themes that define her; a modern interpretation of the story plus a few questions for the reader to ponder over and reflect on. And, of course, a couple of recipes.
“As a psychotherapist, I like things that allow people to reflect on their own life, so they can improve.”
Not all the heroines are familiar. Together with Esther, Eve, Rachel and Rebekah — of whom most of us will be already aware — Alfond includes Zipporah — non-Jewish wife of Moses; Abigail — King David’s third wife; and Shifra, a midwife who delivered many babies for the Israelites in Egypt in the time of Pharoah.
Contributors ranged from 80 year old, Australian Nora Vinson to Alfond’s (then) nine year old daughter, Yael.
Yael, sharing a recipe for her namesake, plumped for a coconut lime popsicle explaining that she thought it would be welcome in the searing desert heat.
Vinson grew up in China, which has influenced her cooking and eating. Her recipe wsa inspired by the fact that her character, Zipporah — a Midianite living in Egypt with husband, Moses — would cook food simillarly influenced by her homeland. She contributed Chinese tofu matzah balls in a Tianjin sweet and sour sauce which she serves at her Seders for those not eating gefilte fish.
All recipes are plant-based and parev, in keeping with Alfond’s food ethos. It feels appropriate in the current zeitgeist in the food world.
Alfond says that she wanted to produce a book that is more than a recipe book, but also an interesting read but also for groups to share, perhaps cooking dishes from it as a pot luck learning experience. “I wanted there to be more to it — you learn something and there’s food attached to that learning; which makes it even more satisfying.”
We have fallen a little in love with it at the JC office and think it would make a fitting gift for a Batmitzvah.
Feeding Women of the Bible, Feeding Ourselves by Kenden Alfond, Turner Publishing will be published on March 10 and available on Amazon.co.uk