Monday, May 9, 2011

Jewish Foods To Bring Back

The Forward website currently has an article listing 10 Jewish Foods To Bring Back. (My mother emailed a link to me in lieu of cooking.) As someone who no longer eats meat, but who enjoys remembering the offerings of my grandmothers' kitchens, and the kitchens of various Jewish restaurants, this article really hit the spot. Humble yet luxurious, familiar yet exotic, some of these foods were artifacts of an earlier era even in my younger days.

P'tcha, a jellied calf's foot dish that I would describe as garlic, cholesterol-laden jello with a hard boiled egg embedded within it, was weird in every way, and was lovable both for that strangeness and for its rich and assertive flavors. It was a favorite of my grandfather, a Litvak from Belarus. When he departed from this world, p'tcha departed from our table.

Similarly, eyerlach, which my Galitzianer grandmother referred to by some other name, seemed too weird to be real. Those were unhatched eggs which had been harvested from slaughtered hens. The shells were not yet hardened, and the chicks within them not yet fully formed. The Forward article describes them as a soup ingredient, although I remember them best sauteed in schmaltz with gribennes, seasoned with black pepper or paprika.

Others on the Forward top ten list, like belly lox, seemed to me to be a permanent fixture of Jewish American cuisine but have for some mysterious reason virtually vanished. When I tried to order it in Zabar's about 10 years ago, the counter man/sturgeon surgeon tried to talk me out of ordering it. "It's much too salty. Take the nova instead." Dammit, I felt like saying, I like salty food. Why should I go for that bland, smoky stuff?

Similarly, tongue seemed like it would have legs. (Okay, that's a weird sentence.) What I mean to say is that it seemed to me that it wasn't an endangered species. (Also a strange sentence.) I used to love it in various forms, especially cooked in a sweet and sour sauce with raisins (my grandmothers made it that way -- as did the Weequahic Diner in Newark), or steamed, thin cut and stacked high on yellow corn rye bread -- the deli version. I can remember coming home from school and seeing the cow's huge tongue sticking up from a cutting board on the kitchen counter. My mother was in the process of "peeling" it, a process I remember involving boiling water and a paring knife. No. That's not why I stopped eating meat.

(I wonder if there's a vegetarian version? Tofu tongue anyone? Now that I think of it, that might stop me eating tofu.)

Schav is the one vegetarian dish on the Forward's endangered list/menu. That's a sour-grass soup, as much Slavic as Jewish. A word to the wise, echoing the wisdom of the Forward: the stuff sold in supermarkets should be banned for human consumption. Make it at home, order it in a restaurant, or, please, come up with a palatable packaged version and sell me some. The real thing is so good.

Two questions for the Forward: 1) what about cholent and corn rye bread? and 2) when will you come out with the top ten lists of endangered Sephardi and Mizrahi foods? I've got some Sephardi background and that part of me gets hungry too.

P'tcha.  Looks good, but lose the lemon.

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