Like many Jewish families, the Morrises often describe each other in terms of food. Grandma cooked traditional dinners to perfection but Grandpa always ate egg and chips. Mum was dependable with a brisket while dad was more enthusiastic — a “stunt cook”.
“It’s all we ever talk about,” says Rick Pushinsky, né Morris, a photographer whose professional name comes from the family’s original name, changed somewhere between Lithuania and London a century ago. “My parents are obsessed with cooking.”
Pushinsky’s latest project distills all those conversations into a book of laminated recipe cards the size of an iPad, illustrated with his own photography. Titled Just Not Kosher, it features 21 recipes — a three-course meal for each day of the week — from food-spattered clippings assembled and refined over 60 years. Although Steven Morris gets the credit for the recipes, on the project’s website he pays tribute to wife, Helen, who he says: “ tells me that I’m not the tidiest of cooks; I am often accused of dirtying every pan in the kitchen. She is, however, an excellent cook and much tidier than me. After 45 years of marriage, these recipes are as much hers as they are mine, and her versions are unassailably wonderful.”
The classics are all there; recipes for lokshen kugel, chopped liver, chicken soup and kneidlach are customised riffs on the familiar. But you’ll also find more exotic dishes, sprinkled with Gruyère and paired with polenta, inspired by holidays abroad. “I remember my dad bringing back lemongrass from the Far East in 1995,” says Pushinsky. “None of us had ever tried it.” Whether due to fashion or simply the rare consensus of everyone at the table, many of those recipes endured.
Committing them to card continues Pushinsky’s newfound interest in the family legacy. Last year he, his dad and brother, Harry travelled to a village in Lithuania searching for family connections. He was stunned when they came across the graves of his great-great grandmother and grandfather. They also discovered some crossover in the food they enjoyed there: “All those cabbage leaves… and some great pickles.”
After the Independent newspaper commissioned him to photograph a series of columns by chef Mark Hix, he toyed with shooting some of his father’s more impressive dishes back home in Manchester. “It started to build into a bit of a collection.”
He began testing his father’s recipes for egg salad and chopped liver and found himself transported back to childhood. “That’s when I started thinking about this as being important for me personally.”
Just Not Kosher evolved naturally from there. Design-wise, loose recipe cards were easier to produce and are more practical to prop up in the kitchen than an entire book — as well as easier to keep clean than an iPad.
Pushinsky opted for a tongue-in-cheek title, reflecting his reluctance to be held back by Jewish dietary laws. But although not every recipe is inherently kosher, they can all be easily adapted for kosher kitchens.
The family weren’t always on the same page when it came to the recipes. With everyone weighing in, some of them were changed right down to the final deadline. “We argued about pickles for three weeks,” he says.
He hopes that people will like the recipes, even though there’s no starry chef endorsing them.
“It would be nice to hear back from people who try the recipes,” he says.
“But not if they go badly!”