Food books, cooking and otherwise, elicit so many disparate responses on first-flip through. Curiosity, excitement, nostalgia. Even shock (this isn't really a cookbook, is it).
But there are a handful, the just-released Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks now among them, that render you speechless. That Marks is a rabbi, historian and author of the best selling James Beard-award winning cookbook Olive Trees and Honey doesn't help the vocabulary brain freeze. Maybe there's a "wow" muttered there under some breath, but that's really about the only useless non-descriptive word you can possible come up with when you're staring at twenty years of research and more than 600 pages of entries on halke (the Yiddish name for dumplings in some Slavic areas of Europe) and masconod (pasta rolled and filled with Parmesan cheese, essentially the Jewish version of cannelloni). With. No. Other. Contributing. Authors.
Like Larousse Gastronomique, which has more than forty contributors and a panel of editors (and fine, twice the number of entries), the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food is organized alphabetically, like an encyclopedia (shocker). Only here, Marks includes the origin of the food when applicable (Middle Eastern, Austrian, or was that sfoungato -- baked spinach egg casserole -- Polish? Greek). All the more fascinating when you can't stop reading about things you're not sure you pronounced correctly, say that sutlach (rice-flour pudding from the Middle East) and delkel (Hungarian cheese Danishes).
The index is equally fascinating -- and honestly, when have you ever said that? "Rosh Hashanah" alone has nearly seventy options, including sfratto (an Italian stick-shaped cookie with honey-walnut filling) and Syrian keskasune (couscous-shaped pasta). Relevant entries, like yayin tzemukim (raisin wine, consumed worldwide when fresh grapes were not available), include historically significant, carefully researched yet also straight-to-the-point recipes. Three hundred recipes.
Right. We really don't want to know how many hours of sleep Marks requires to write not just coherent, but thoughtful sentences (four, five hours?) as the idea itself is rather depressing. So we'll be making raisin wine instead. Lots of it.
From: Encyclopedia of Jewish Cooking by Gil Marks
Makes: About 1 quart
1 pound (3 1/4 cups) raisins, chopped
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About 3 1/4 cups water (an amount equal to the raisins)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (4 ounces) sugar (optional)
1. In a 2-quart jar or enamel crock, combine all the ingredients, cover with cheesecloth, and let stand in a cool place until the raisins rise to the surface, about 3 weeks.
2. Drain, pressing the solids to extract all the moisture. Pour through a coffee filter 2 to 3 times until the liquid is clear.