Delicious aromas, the taste of a special spice, a treasured china pattern used for a holiday dinner — all can elicit strong feelings, take us back to a particular time and place, and bring forth voices and stories silenced in the past.
Our new book, Kugels & Collards, is a celebration of the Southern Jewish table. It’s not a typical cookbook; rather, it is a collection of essays and family recipes from many contributors — Jewish and non-Jewish, white and Black, women and men — whose culinary memories are firmly rooted in South Carolina, a state that was home to some of the oldest communities of Jews in America. Marcie Cohen Ferris writes in her introduction, “women shaped my Southern Jewish experience. I witnessed deep friendships, as they cooked holiday meals at home and in the synagogue kitchen and supported one another through life passages, celebrations, and loss.” Our own experiences mirror that of Marcie’s.
We are South Carolinians Jews. Our families’ stories reflect the journeys that generations of Jewish immigrants made to America. As women pulled by the force of both our region and our religion, we recognize the expressive power of food. Our inspiration to create Kugels & Collards came from our mothers and grandmothers, descendants of Eastern European immigrants, as well as the African American women who worked in our homes and shared their culinary knowledge.
Lyssa Kligman Harvey
When I reminisce about Jewish food traditions, I feel nostalgic for my mother – a beautiful, proud, Jewish woman with a passion for delicious food. She was a fabulous cook of all traditional Ashkenazi foods, including chopped liver, sweet and sour cabbage meatballs, and rugelach. Born and raised in Charleston, Carolina, she had a strong Southern drawl and she also had a deep appreciation of Lowcountry cuisine – ,barbecue ribs, shrimp boils, and steamed oysters.I, too, enjoy Southern foods, and I have also made it a point to learn her traditional Jewish recipes and share the dishes with my own family. I speak my mother’s love language of Southern and Jewish food.
Rachel Gordin Barnett
My family was the only Jewish family in the small- town of Summerton, South Carolina. My mother, who was raised in a kosher home in Charleston, married my father and moved to Summerton in 1955. My father had returned to Summerton following his graduation from the University of South Carolina to run the family business. They lived with e my Russian-born paternal grandfather, and two of my father’s maternal aunts from Baltimore. Ethel Mae Glover worked for the family as a housekeeper and cook and was taught many of the Jewish recipes from my paternal grandmother as well as expanding the menu to include her own Southern dishes which were influenced in part by her African American traditions. In 1966 my maternal grandmother sold her Charleston business to move closer to my family. She added to the family’s Southern Jewish table by baking sweets including traditional items such as rugelach and a wonderful honey cake. Growing up was an interesting melding of traditions, generations, and cultures that gave me the basis for my culinary journey. Today, I still cook Ethel’s collards, squash casserole, and kugel but have yet to master my grandmother’s honey cake.
In reading Kugels & Collards, we hope that you will discover or remember a South Carolinian and Jewish culinary legacy that – shaped by regional ingredients, seasons, and African, Mediterranean, and European cultures – continues to evolve. This is our Southern Jewish table.
Rachel Gordin Barnett and Lyssa Kligman Harvey are lifelong South Carolinians who have been instrumental in preserving Jewish history across the state. They are founding members of the Historic Columbia Jewish Heritage Initiative and creators of the Kugels & Collards blog. They live in Columbia, South Carolina.