Kugels & Col­lards: Sto­ries of Food, Fam­i­ly, and Tra­di­tion in Jew­ish South Carolina

  • Review
By – October 18, 2023

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.

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