Jewish food, especially Ashkenazi Jewish food, is often thought of as limited to the Metropolitan area. Indeed, many Jewish specialties — salty lox, crispy latkes, matzo ball soup, and sour pickles — have become synonymous with New York City. Some go as far as to suggest that “New York” food is actually just Jewish food, and that Jewish food is truly New York food. And while it is true that many iconic Jewish staples are rooted in New York culture, Kugels & Collards tells us a different, no less compelling tale of the development of Jewish food in the Americas.
In their new cookbook, Rachel Gordin Barnett and Lyssa Kligman Harvey (both multigenerational South Carolinians) explore the broad expression of Jewish cuisine in South Carolina throughout the past three hundred years. Layering heartfelt and intimate essays with recipes that combine Ashkenazi, Russian, Sephardic, modern Israeli, and Southern flavors, the friends and coauthors assemble a rich and varied portrait of how Jews integrated Southern culture into their lives — and ultimately created a unique cuisine.
According to Barnett and Harvey, developing Jewish Southern dishes often involves the “kosherification” of traditional Southern cuisine. For example, one recipe submitted by Kim Cliett Long replaces the pork normally used to give Southern-style collards their unctuous umami flavor with hickory-smoked salt. In the foreword, Marcie Cohen Ferris summarizes this fusion of Jewish and Southern food: “In dishes such as chicken and rice, chopped liver, okra gumbo … we can easily identify a South Carolina vocabulary of core ingredients such as rice, grits, collards, and peaches, while the grammar reveals the influence of remembered recipes and cooking methods from eastern and central Europe, Africa, and even the Middle East.”
Barnett and Harvey also highlight how classic Southern dishes, like peach cobbler and fried green tomatoes, found their way onto the tables of Jews across the state. Jewish South Carolinians proudly adopted the flavors of their home state, giving these items lauded spots on their Shabbat and holiday tables. In some cases, kosher laws were even trumped by the popular pork- and shrimp-heavy cuisine of the South. However, no matter a dish’s kosher status, deep Southern Jewish pride is clear throughout the book.
Kugel & Collards emphasizes the regionality of Jewish American cuisine and sheds light on the vibrancy of Jewish life in South Carolina. It’s perfect for anyone who’s looking to dabble in Southern cuisine without straying too far from kosher laws, or who wants to try a Southern spin on a classic Jewish dish (grits-and-lox casserole, anyone?).
Hannah Kressel is a current fellow at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. She holds a Masters in Art History from the University of Oxford and a Bachelors in Art History and Studio Art from Brandeis University. Her research examines the intersection of contemporary art, food, and religion. She is an avid baker and cook.