In praise of older books: The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden (1997)

A year of classic titles selected from Julie Parsons’ personal library

Claudia Roden’s  The Book of Jewish Food is a history of Jewish domestic life –  as well as a collection of recipes

Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food is a history of Jewish domestic life – as well as a collection of recipes

 

The book’s pages are stained and creased and it always falls open at the same place. The recipe for orange cake. A Judeo-Spanish cake, which Claudia Roden says “is moist like a pudding”. Its ingredients are the essence of simplicity. Eggs, oranges, sugar, baking powder and almonds. Simple to make but supremely delicious.

Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food is a delight from start to finish. Not just a collection of recipes, but also a history of Jewish domestic life. As Roden says: “Every cuisine tells a story. Jewish food tells the story of an uprooted migrating people and their vanished worlds.”

It is a personal story too. Many of the recipes are from Roden’s extended family, originally from Syria and Turkey and living in Egypt when the author was born. The book is divided into food of the Ashkenazi world, Russia, Poland and Eastern Europe, food which travelled westward, ending up in the United States, and food of the Sephardi world, Mediterranean and Oriental Jews.

Scattered throughout are black and white photos. Families cooking and eating, Jews from across the world, from India and Iraq, the Yemen and Salonika. Hard to understand that while their food lives on, many of these communities were annihilated by the Holocaust. The stories she tells are warm, human and fascinating and her recipes are infinitely doable.

Stuck for something for dinner? Open The Book of Jewish Food and you’ll find the answer. Among my favourites are lamb with raisins and almonds, and chicken sofrito. Oil, lemon, turmeric, salt and pepper, cardamom pods and a chicken. Put in the pot and cook over a low heat until the chicken is tender. In these days where every week another “must have” cookery book is published, what a relief to open the cupboard and take down the tried and tested.

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