Ashkenazi or Sephardi?

I’ve had an interesting week and as you have probably guessed from above, it has involved Jewish people. And, if your mind works a bit like mine, your first thought was FOOD! And how very right you would be.

This week I had my very first visit to a synagogue. The military historian to whom I am wed was giving one of his talks to a Jewish retired group and I went with him to do the navigating. Neither of us realised it would be in a hall at the side of the synagogue, don’t ask me why it never crossed our minds, we were having a dumb moment.

Anyway, when we arrive, himself is required to wear a skull cap, which fortunately didn’t fall off during the time we were there and I got a conducted tour of the synagogue itself. It was beautiful and fascinating and I found everything really, really interesting. The stained glass was lovely, very modern, but very well done and richly coloured. The lower set represented each of the Jewish festivals, Passover, Rosh Hannah etc and the upper set were The Twelve Tribes of Israel.

The lovely man who was my guide showed me were The Torah is kept and told me very proudly that theirs is over 300 years old and was written by a scribes of exceptional skill. he also took me through a part of a service, showing me the Hebrew side of the prayer book and the English side. I thought it was a very good job I hadn’t been born Jewish, I could barely mange an F- in French, I would have been a total disaster with not only a different tongue, but a different alphabet would have been something which made my 11% in the French mock “O” level look like a triumph.

As you may have guessed, my ability to learn, speak or understand a foreign language is pitiable, except for culinary French…where do you think I managed to pick up the marks to achieve my 11%.

Back to food.

After Himself had given his talk ( “Women in the Army in World War One”), there were question and tea and cake. And what cake, my dear ones, absolutely delicious homemade, kosher ones. There was a chocolate sponge which looked very boring, just brown sponge, but which was in fact a diet busting, several slices, fabulous chocolatey delight. And the biscuits ( cookies, my American buddies), were yummy.

I got talking to the ladies who had conjured up these goodies, none of which were under 75 and several of whom were over 90, and they told me they all got their recipes from Florence Greenburg’s Jewish Cooking. One of them said her copy was so old and so well used it was only held together by sellotape and chicken fat. Well  of course I wanted a copy of this book, but a quick trawl through various book sellers showed it was out of print and what second hand ones I could find where either affordable, but in vile condition or in excellent condition, but so expensive it made my eyes water.

Then the military historian reminded me I do have a copy of “The Book of Jewish Food” by Claudia Roden. In fact, he said, you have a hard back first edition in a dust wrapper. And, he said, you have never opened it despite the fact I bought it for you in 1997.

I obviously treated all this with the contempt it deserved and went on a book hunt the second we got home. This might sound a bit exaggerated, but you haven’t seen the inside of Allen Towers and the way the walls are held up by over stuffed bookcases. Remarkably, I found the book almost immediately and what treasures I have found inside.

The book is divided into the two culinary traditions, The Ashkenazi World and The Sephardi World, the first is the food of the cold north, heavy on potatoes, cream and eggs, while the second is the food of the warm south, fragrant with citrus, rose water and pistachios. Both a totally delicious and I can’t hardly decide what to cook first.

Hardly, but not impossible. I am going to start with an apple cake and some savoury pancakes stuffed with minced beef. Then I am going to try Pipiruchkas Reyenadas de Keso (Peppers stuffed with cheese), Kubba Halab (Meat-Filled Rice Croquettes) and a Chocolate and Almond cake which has a method I have never seen before.

Later I want to try making some of the bread recipes, I make all my own bread using the lovely lazy no-knead method, so how well I will do with going back to the old manual method I amd my arthritic wrists I do not know, but I do love a bagel, especially with London cure smoked salmon and cream cheese.

So thank you to the ladies and gentleman of the synagogue, thank you for showing me your beautiful temple and thank you for sending me off on a new culinary adventure.