A few years ago, when I wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal about increasing numbers of gentile moms raising Jewish kids, I was amused by the editor’s headline choice: “But Will The Chicken Soup Taste As Good?”
In fact, a sizable number of non-Jewish men and women who have married into the Tribe are taking on the responsibility of cooking the family’s chicken soup, along with other traditional Jewish dishes.
On the 700-member listserv for the Mothers Circle, the Jewish Outreach Institute-created network of programs for gentile moms raising Jewish kids, food is a frequent topic of discussion. Now, the Mothers Circle is soliciting recipes for its own cookbook, one that, according to its website, will honor gentile moms raising Jewish kids and will feature:
foods eaten on Jewish holidays, recipes passed down from family members or friends, and any other foods that contribute to their family’s Jewish experience. These unique stories and food traditions not only enhance the heritage of Mothers Circle families, but also of the greater Jewish community as well, as they demonstrate the delicious diversity of our entire community.
Meanwhile Tori Avey, a recent convert to Judaism, is at work on her own cookbook called “The Shiksa in the Kitchen,” a process documented (with many recipes and photos, of course) on her blog. Her Rosh HaShanah challah recipe was featured last week on the Bon Appetit website.
Even Joan Nathan, the food writer and author of several Jewish cookbooks, has taken notice of the gentile balabusta phenomenon. Last week she had an article on Tablet called "Kitchen Conversions:Intermarried couples must learn new holiday recipes and traditions," although in fairness most of the cooks she featured are converts to Judaism and thus not intermarried. In December, she wrote a Chanukah story for the New York Times on gentile chefs with Jewish spouses.
My lapsed Catholic husband Joe is a vegetarian and certainly won’t be making chicken soup anytime soon. In fact, while he shares my love of Israeli food, he’s not a big fan of most Ashkenazi fare, and for many years, his two signature dishes were shrimp scampi and clam chowder. Nonetheless, while I’m the primary cook in our household, last year Joe taught himself (from a Joan Nathan recipe on MyJewishLearning) to make shakshuka, the spicy Israeli egg-tomato dish and has proudly prepared it on numerous family occasions, even persuading my grandmother, a not-so-adventurous eater, to try it.
To our delight, the gentile-prepared shakshuka won over my Yiddishe Grandma (who just celebrated her 90th birthday), and for weeks she repeatedly told everyone how delicious it was. Incidentally, Joe’s Jewish outreach isn’t limited to the culinary: he recently inspired my mom, an avowed atheist who tends to be dismissive of Judaism, to deepen her knowledge of Jewish history and texts. Upon realizing he knew more about the topic than she does, Mom downloaded The Great Courses series “Between Cross and Crescent: Jewish Civilization from Mohammed to Spinoza.”
Some food for thought, I suppose.
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