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Recipes for Jewish American Life

Ahava Ehrenpreis

We all have a few cookbooks, and view them as a useful collection of recipes. But did you ever think of them as an important historical tool? Or having a powerful role in communal life? Or serving as an emotional link between generations? A recent exhibition at the University of Michigan showed that a Jewish cookbook often reveals as much about us as it shares the food we love.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

When I received an invitation for a family simchah in my hometown, which is an hour’s drive from theUniversity ofMichigan inAnn Arbor, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to see an exhibition at the university’s Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library.

The library isn’t one of my usual stops, but this exhibition, which ran for two months, promised to be something special: American Foodways: The Jewish Contribution focused on Jewish community cookbooks. It was curated by Janice Bluestein Longone, adjunct curator of American culinary history in special collections at theUniversity ofMichigan.

Ms. Longone is a culinary historian who has amassed a collection of over 25,000 items related to culinary literature and ephemera during her more than 40 years of scouting out flea markets, used bookstores, and other venues. Her research has been used by famous chefs such as Craig Claiborne, Alice Waters, and Julia Child, and she has received a lifetime achievement award in culinary literature from the New York Public Library and the Culinary Historians of New York.

Ms. Longone wasn’t available the day I arrived in Ann Arbor, but I was met by Avery Robinson, a master’s degree graduate student who co-curated the exhibit and who showed me around. The poster that greeted me in the library’s main lobby featured the cover of one of the cookbooks mentioned in the exhibit, More than Matzo Balls (2010). A busy looking “cook” was stirring something that I assume was chicken soup. Very charming, I thought to myself.

But that opening poster in no way prepared me for the delightful, historical, visual, and just plain fun experience of this exhibit.


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