By now, you've got to be questioning: "Why in the world would anyone want to do this?" The answer's pretty easy, and I'll tell you!
In 2009, a nice North Shore Chicago Gay Jewish Boy had the opportunity to travel to Scottsdale, Arizona on a belated-honeymoon with his spouse, whom we shall call "Mr. France". While visiting, they decided to take in a wonderful little movie that had been recently released - Julie & Julia.
Like most all who've seen this wonderful movie, it's a phenomenal story of a 21st Century New Yorker who decides life needs her life needs a little overhaul. Her result: picking up a copy of Julia Child's book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", and cooking her way through each recipe - cover to cover. It's an adorable movie, and I was absolutely enchanted to find out it was based on a true story! Could that NOT be any cooler??
Not one to ride on anyone's coat tails, but let's face it - it's a pretty freakin' cool idea! Taking a brilliant piece of culinary history and reproducing each and every recipe, learning new things as you cook, and in turn honoring the legacy of great cooks who have fed people - body and soul - in the grand tradition of community by bringing meals to the table. It was intoxicating.
Oh, alright....so, you clearly can tell that the guy in Scottsdale was me. Not so surprising, I'm sure. I'm always looking into new projects that have a historical bent to them - Victorian life, costuming, antiques, historical cooking, etc. I'm a fairly multi-facted person with to many interests to mention and never enough time to learn as much as I'd like. But it's never stopped me from charging into things with the intensity of a freight train.
I saw the movie, I fell in love, I wanted more. Now what??
Originally published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1871, the book "Mrs. Esther Levy's Jewish Cookery Book - on Principles of Economy Adapted for Jewish Housekeepers with Medicinal Recipes and Other Valuable Information Relative to Housekeeping and Domestic Management."
Fairly long title, huh?
Well, what were you expecting for being the FIRST Jewish cookbook published in the United States? An achievement like that deserves the opporunity to be a little wordy. Fortunately, it's contents are succinct, direct and to the point, and very discriptive for appropriate methods of the time period.
What do we know about the author? Sadly, very little. Mrs. Esther (nee Jacobs) Levy, holds the distinction of being the authoress of the first Jewish cookbook to be published in the United States, and only the second to appear in the English language. It is assumed she was a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In reality, this wonderful book is only the third Jewish cookbook ever published; although earlier cookbooks had contained sections on Jewish cookery, some of them woefully inaccurate or completely not in keeping with Jewish customs or Kosher customs. The recipes included have a strong German influence, which may have been due to either the author's own origins, as much as to the culinary example of her fellow Pennsylvanians and contemporary cookery experts.