Tuesday, November 9, 2010

In The Beginning....

Greetings! Welcome to The Boychick Balabusta! This journal is dedicated to chronicling the adventures, mishaps, trials and tribulations, and general craziness that is attempting to recreate the recipes of the FIRST Jewish American cookbook!

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??

I decided it was time to embark on some cooking projects of my own. I had started a project like this back in 1997 with a foray into period cooking for a regiment of American Civil War reenactors. I loved it, but it wasn't enough. I needed more. Over the past 2 years, I've spent 2 summers as cook with The Guilde of St. Michael, a dedicated group of men and women recreating the Trayn'd Bandes of Bristol, an Elizabethan Military group. Two summers of Elizabethan Era foods from original recipes over an open hearth in 90' heat and unbearable humidity, using period appropriate cooking techniques and methods. Was it enough? Nope. I loved it. I wanted more.

I started thinking about "Julie & Julia." Julie took a book and cooked her way through it. I'm a Victorian enthusiast. What's my best option? And it hit me - "Mrs. Beeton's Guide to Household Management." Could it get ANY more perfect?

....and then I got a copy of "Mrs. Beeton." I'll admit it. I was intimidated. This is about as thick as "War and Peace", and twice as complicated. I needed to scale it down a bit. Think practically.

My answer presented itself in a most unusual.

I had been talking Elizabethan food related things for a while with my friend Dan, another history enthusiast. In his research of 1570's pottery styles, he'd found a fantastic craftsman in South Carolina that reproduced pottery with similar styles of finishing technique, colors, etc. as was common in Elizabethan England. And they had some books. He suggested I check out this one in particular. It sounded of interest, being partly Victorian, and Jewish.
So, I got a copy, looked it over, and promptly let it sit. And then I picked it back up again. What I found was pretty incredible!

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.
...and there it was. A 21st Century Gay Jewish man and newly wedded "wife" was looking across 139 years at his own counterparted existance of a 19th Century Jewish wife living in a Man's World. And the great work begins. . .


Elizabeth said...

Hurray! This sounds like a glorious adventure. Best of all, it sounds like we're going to get to hear about it in your wonderful prose, which is always a treat to read-- this will have to satisfy us as we read about the treats you are cooking!

dana said...

I can't wait to read all of this! It sounds like a grand adventure....and I LOVE adventures!

magadociousrex said...

:D Can I come and help? :D :D

juli_mccarthy said...

How exciting! I can't wait to read/hear/taste more!

Chris Gelinskey said...

You astound me. Truly! This is going to be an amazing and grandiouse adventure that I cannot WAIT to read about (and at least a few times taste). Best of luck! I cannot wait!