Jew­ish Fairy Tale Feasts: A Lit­er­ary Cookbook

Retold by Jane Yolen; Hei­di E.Y. Stem­ple, recipes; Sima Eliz­a­beth She­frin, illus.

  • Review
By – March 7, 2013

Eigh­teen Jew­ish folk­tales fea­tur­ing food are paired with tried and true recipes in a fes­tive new gift book for fam­i­lies to share. In their intro­duc­tion, the moth­er and daugh­ter team empha­size the tasti­ness that tra­di­tion adds to a meal. It’s def­i­nite­ly fun to match a sto­ry up to the par­tic­u­lar food that fol­lows. The tale of the restau­ra­teur who now expects an out­ra­geous return for the price of one egg giv­en twen­ty-five years before is a nat­ur­al paired with the recipe for shak­shu­ka (Israeli poached eggs). Three Clever Things,” where a grown son proves his iden­ti­ty by determin­ing how to divide five chick­ens even­ly among sev­en peo­ple, is fol­lowed by a recipe for Tsimmes Chicken.

Almost all of the dish­es here are cul­tur­al­ly famil­iar: latkes, mat­zo brei, chal­lah, and bagels for brunch; chick­en soup and mat­zo balls, pome­gran­ate cous­cous, and noo­dle kugel for main dish­es; desserts of hon­ey cake and mini-cheese­cakes. Stemple’s recipe style is con­ver­sa­tion­al and reas­sur­ing. She offers full how-tos and sug­gests vari­a­tions. Side­bars and notes through­out the book link dish­es to their place in Jew­ish fam­i­ly life, hol­i­days, and cus­toms. The begin­ning states that this is a cook­book for kids;” how­ev­er, it is not for chil­dren to tack­le alone. Cer­tain­ly, the recipes for mak­ing dough for blintzes and rugelach from scratch are the most ambi­tious, but read­ers will want to try.

For many chil­dren, half of the folk­tales may be new, for they have not been wide­ly cir­cu­lat­ed. Mas­ter writer Yolen adds names and homey details to some bare-bone tales and doc­u­ments her sources. She offers super­natural sur­pris­es. For younger chil­dren, there are sto­ries of the chant­i­ng imp in the vine­gar jug who caus­es mis­chief while Rif­ka is en route to her grandmother’s with a mag­ic pitch­er of oil and of the lit­tle cap-wear­ers who have been milk­ing a man’s cow. For old­er lis­ten­ers, there is the sto­ry of a mid­wife who tricks the demoness, Lilith, by cork­ing a milk jug in which a black hair has been found so that she will not harm the chil­dren to come. In anoth­er, the win­dow through which the gen­er­ous wife of a miser­ly rab­bi has been pass­ing food sud­den­ly widens to accom­mo­date her husband’s cof­fin. The most com­plex adap­ta­tion is a ver­sion of The Fin­ger sto­ry, in which a young groom fool­ishly speaks wed­ding vows and plants the ring on a tree pro­tru­sion, which turns out to be the fin­ger of a jeal­ous demoness who kills his first two brides before the third bride fig­ures out to leave gifts of jam to pro­tect their fam­i­ly. This sto­ry is accom­pa­nied by a recipe for blintzes.

Play­ful, col­or­ful col­lages with fab­ric and paint and round, read­able type insure this col­lec­tion of sto­ries and recipes will receive a warm welcome.

Rec­om­mend­ed for all ages and for par­ents and chil­dren to share.

From the ProsenPeople

Sharon Elswit, author of The Jew­ish Sto­ry Find­er, now resides in San Fran­cis­co, where she shares tales aloud in a local JCC preschool and vol­un­teers with 826 Valen­cia to help stu­dents write their own sto­ries and poems.

Discussion Questions