Preserving: A Jewish Tradition | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Preserving: A Jewish Tradition

Preserving: A Jewish Tradition

New book focuses on a wide range of preserving techniques

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“I was interested in home preserving and interested in Jewish food, so I thought, why not combine my two interests into one micro-specialization?” said food blogger and writer Emily Paster, at a recent cooking demo from her new book, The Joys of Jewish Preserving.

Paster, a former lawyer living the Chicago area, turned to food blogging, writing, and photography for her website, West of the Loop, after the birth of her second child. She founded the Chicago Food Swap, a community event where handmade foods are bartered and exchanged. This, her second cookbook, is the culmination of Paster’s ten-year interest in and experimentation with various traditionally Jewish preserving techniques and recipes.

One of the book’s aims is to showcase a distinctive Jewish tradition of home preserving. Although curing, pickling, and preserving were ubiquitous in the time before refrigeration and have long been part of the local cuisines of the lands where Jews lived, Paster explains how two factors led Jews to nurture unique home preserving practices.

The complex laws of kosher food preparation meant that Jews were more likely to prepare and preserve food themselves and sell it in local markets since finding kosher food to buy from others was hard. The emphasis on homemade food preservation persisted among Jews even as mass manufacture and global transportation of prepared foods became more common among non-Jews because kosher-certified prepared foods were scarce until recent decades.

Second, the kashrut laws also led to a greater emphasis on fruit-based preserves, jams, conserves, and syrups, especially in desserts, since cheese and butter-based pastries are forbidden after meat meals. Thus, jams, fruit preserves, syrups, and pickles gained a place of prominence in Jewish cooking as ingredients in Jewish holiday delicacies, as condiments, or simply eaten on their own.

Those who associate Jewish pickling only with Eastern European dill pickles and sauerkraut will be delighted to find home preserving intertwined with Jewish cuisines and customs across Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Mizrachi Jewish communities.

Paster lovingly recounts in the book how she was introduced to Sephardi home cooking and preserving when she spent a year in France and was hosted by a North African Jewish couple.

Accordingly, the book features a wide range of mouth-watering recipes from the four corners of the Jewish world. Russian-style sour cherry preserves and pickled eggs from the American south are presented side by side with North African matbucha and Syrian pickled cauliflower. A few of the recipes are Paster’s own twist on traditional Jewish foods, like her charoset conserve or her lemon walnut eingemacht, inspired by the preserve made by some Jews with their etrogs after Sukkot.

Food safety is an important concern for water bath canning of foods intended to be shelf-stable without refrigeration, since eating improperly preserved foods can be dangerous. Paster advises readers not to be a “shiterein cook” – one who cooks from experience without precise measurements – and always follow preparation instructions for home canning carefully. By following a few easy steps, and without need for much special equipment, water bath canning can be a safe way to prepare the recipes in the book for storage.

Paster identifies a Jewish preserving revival in recent years, driven by concerns over processed food and the growth of DIY culture. As she points out in the book, sales of the iconic Ball jars have doubled since 2001. This trend dovetails with the emergence of popular artisanal Jewish delis like Mile End Deli and Shelsky’s in New York, Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen in San Francisco, and Kenny and Zuke’s in Portland, Oregon.

Those interested in joining the trend can find inspiration among the pages of Paster’s book.


Sweet and Sour Peach Ketchup

Cranberry Applesauce

Syrian Pickled Cauliflower

Apple, Honey, and Rose Water Jam

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