When my mother went off to college, her own mother painstakingly typed all of her family recipes out on a typewriter and assembled them into a book. She sent this book off to the University of Florida with my mother, a little piece of home and familiarity tucked away inside her suitcase.
But my mother doesn’t like to cook, so the book traveled with her from apartment to apartment to house over the course of 30 years. Every now and again it would be pulled down from a shelf and dusted off, but it remained mostly unused. My mother is not someone I’d consider to be nostalgic, either. She’s not one for maintaining tradition or family stories.
That’s where I come in. I am incredibly tied to my family history. I’ve spent hours with my grandparents asking them questions about their families who emigrated to the U.S. from Russia at the turn of the twentieth century. I’ve collected old photographs of my ancestors and they hang on a gallery wall in my home, images in black and white, of people with dark hair and pronounced noses staring back at me. I have inherited the bedroom furniture of my great-grandparents, choosing to keep it in my home when my great aunt was ready to sell it.
And, as someone who loves to cook, I’ve also made it a point to collect those family recipes from my grandmother, the ones she shared with my other three decades ago. I have my grandmother’s recipe for brisket, for noodle kugel, for potato latkes. Recipes for borscht and chopped liver and rugelach. I treasure these recipes for the way they connect me to my family and my heritage, to who I am and where I come from.
I’m not the only one that values the food my grandmother cooked, either. A new organization called The Jewish Food Society is on a mission to collect and archive Jewish recipes from all over the world: from grandmothers, but also from chefs and cookbook authors and anyone else who might have an emotionally or culturally relevant recipe to share.
Their process for getting these recipes right is extremely thorough. They spend entire days with their sources, learning from them, and then they spend time testing the recipe to ensure they nail the texture and flavor before they photograph it and share it on their website. They are also hosting offline cooking classes and events, to bring Jewish food to the world at-large.
“I’m really trying to communicate a diverse, creative representation of Jewish food. I want to reintroduce people to Jewish food and go way beyond what they might think,” Naama Shefi, Executive Director of the Jewish Food Society, told Food & Wine. “We find that people are excited and curious to explore a wide range of Jewish food traditions, and there’s a hunger for the unique experiences we’re trying to create.”
As someone who knows the value of food as a way of connecting to culture and history, I can’t wait to see where this project goes. And you can bet I’ll be recreating recipes from their site in my own home, creating new food traditions to go along with the old.