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'Traditional' Jewish American foods keep changing, with cookbooks playing an influential role in how Jews mark Rosh Hashana

Deborah Dash Moore, Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of History and Professor of Judaic Studies, University of Michigan, The Conversation on

Published in News & Features

We recognized the recipes and the stories told around them as forms of vernacular Judaism – what Jews, especially American Jews, turned to when they wanted to cook Jewish food. Jewish foods as presented in recipes formed part of Jewish culture just as much as poetry and sermons, paintings and memoirs.

One of the recipes we decided to include was one for baking bagels by Matthew Goodman in “Jewish Food: The World at Table.” The round roll with a hole in it arrived in America with Jewish immigrants. Over the course of the 20th century, the hole grew ever smaller and the bagel ever more plump. But the bagel makers’ union kept a pretty tight lock on the two-step process of making bagels – first boiling, then baking – until frozen bagels were introduced.

After frozen bagels came all sorts of other innovations, like blueberry bagels, not to mention bagels that were only baked and so not particularly chewy. As it turns out, Jews began to celebrate bagels as a distinctively “Jewish food” as they became more popular: Bagels were leaving the Jewish fold and starting to be seen as an American food, with no particular associations with Jews.

Although bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon are still popular among American Jews to break the fast at the end of Yom Kippur, many Americans put all kinds of foods on bagels, including lots of nonkosher combinations.

Only some of what American Jews ate for Rosh Hashana a century ago, or even 50 years ago, endures today.

Chicken soup and gefilte fish, which came to the United States with Russian Jews as foods associated with the Friday evening meal at the beginning of the Sabbath, are still part of the Jewish American palate. But brisket and even turkey have retreated before preferences for tastes such as Moroccan or Persian chicken dishes or vegetarian stews drawn from less familiar Jewish cultures.

 

I particularly miss a sweet dessert called taiglach. The small cubes of baked dough drenched in spiced honey, decorated with nuts and shaped into balls appeared on our table only during the High Holidays. Everyone pulled pieces to eat and licked their fingers. Neither my mother nor my grandmothers nor I ever made it – although my more adventurous sister did. We bought it from Jewish bakeries. But those bakeries are long gone.

The memory remains, as does the wish for a sweet new year that can be tasted.

This article is republished from The Conversation, an independent nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: Deborah Dash Moore, University of Michigan. Like this article? subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

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Deborah Dash Moore received funding from American Jewish Archives to research an article on Jewish cookbooks published by Reform Jewish Sisterhoods.

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