Thursday, September 9, 2010

Baking with Schmaltz

Around the turn of the 20th century, Jewish immigrants began to flood into America by the thousands, coming largely from Eastern Europe and Russia. These Jewish immigrants were faced with the grand question of Americanization: "What traditions from my home country do I preserve, and which do I shed to become more 'American'?" Many new immigrants looked to their dinner tables to begin the assimilation process.

Cookbooks printed at this time reveal "...the choices Jewish women made and, at times, the conflicts that they felt as they negotiated the tension between kosher laws and their upwardly mobiles aspirations... As the 20th century marched on, many Jewish women felt comfortable assimilating through the table...It was possible to do this and still remain Jewish in identity, soul and even according to religious law if desired." (1)

In the pages of early 20th-century cookbooks, you can find the Americanization process written in the recipes. Some of the most literal examples come from cookbooks designed to accompany commercial products, many printed in both English and Yiddish. In the Manoschewitz cookbook pictured below, you can find Passover-friendly recipes for Boston Cream Pie with a matzo meal crust and Mock Oatmeal Cookies, made with schmaltz (chicken fat) instead of butter.

The Mock Oatmeal cookies aren’t as bad as they sound, particularly when they are fresh from the oven and made with Russ & Daughters’ schmaltz. For the recipe, head to my blog Four Pounds Flour.

(1) Schenone, Laura. 1,000 Years Over a Hot Stove. W.W. Norton & Company, 2003.

- Posted by Sarah Lohman

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