The publishing trend of telling history through food may be approaching its end. In any event, Mark Kurlansky pretty much has the genre cornered, telling history through oysters, cod and salt. So it’s a welcomed event when we the food again takes center stage, and the history provides only an interesting backdrop. That is what Joan Nathan, author of an upcoming cookbook about French Jewish food, has been doing for years.
Her forthcoming book, "Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France," will be published by Knopf on November 2. But she gave a glimpse of what it might contain in her New York Times article today. In her article, she described the delectable, yet somewhat odd foods the Jews of France are eating today. "Vegetables stuffed with meat are a popular holiday dish," Nathan tells us. But the stuffing sometimes include "cinnamon, tumeric, and nutmeg."
Cinnamon, tumeric, and nutmeg? You’re not wrong for asking. And here is where Nathan’s light historical touch comes in: many of today’s French Jews immigrated there only recently. They came from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, fleeing after those countries gained independence a half-centry ago and Jewish security became less certain. Nearly a quarter of France’s 300,000 Jews living there before the Second World War were either killed or escaped during the Holocaust, so it is the cooking of these North African Jews who’ve played a major role in contemporary Jewish cooking.
The history is not pretty, but at least the food makes it a bit more palatable.