Place: Pittsburgh, USA. | Time: 1909
Nowadays, cookbooks will almost always have a single author, sometimes even a celebrity chef whom readers admire. Many of the historical cookbooks we read, though, were written by a whole community, an organization, a temple, or a church. This American Jewish cookbook, “Our Sisters’ Recipes,” was created by the Sisterhood of Rodef Shalom Temple in Pittsburgh in 1909.
Community and charity cookbooks were not only common in Jewish communities in the early-20th century, but also in Christian and Mormon communities, as well as women’s clubs. This was a time in which women, though financially dependent on men, began initiate charity and community work. Their causes varied and included everything from elder care, orphanages, women’s colleges, and garden clubs. Through cookbooks, women could also share their political causes in an inoffensive way. The Woman Suffrage Cookbook from 1886, for example, contained recipes such as “Rebel Soup” and “Election Cake.”
Like many other community cookbooks, “Our Sisters’ Recipes” was part of a fundraising campaign. The book was produced in order to raise funds for a scholarship to support “a worthy girl of Allegheny County for a four year course at the University of Pittsburgh.” Over 350 copies of the cookbook sold for $1.00 a piece, and a young woman by the name of Yetta Kamler was able to use some of this money to go to college. Can you believe tuition, carfare, and textbooks was all covered by only a $65 check?!
“Our Sisters’ Recipes” does not include many of the things one would expect to find in a Jewish community cookbook. For starters, we were perplexed by the image of a black woman on the cover – it’s been suggested that she was perhaps the synagogue cook, or an employee of one of the women involved. Additionally, the book doesn’t mention anything about Rodef Shalom Temple, nor does it say anything about Jewish holiday recipes. This was probably so that the cookbook would be more appealing to non-Jewish buyers. The recipe we tried is an “Easter Pudding,” which we were pretty confused about at first. But we’ll get to that in the next section…
From Pen to Plate
No flour, no bread? The first thing that surprised us about this recipe was finding a “delicious Easter pudding” recipe with no flour and no bread. What would this combination of eggs, sugar, and potato look like? Would it be some sort of a large, baked latke? Then we realized that the potato is used here as starch, which is actually a typical substitute for flour in Passover recipes – this pudding is kosher for Passover! Since Passover is close to Easter, it’s called an “Easter pudding” instead.
How to grate cooked potatoes? Reading the recipe, were weren’t sure that it’s possible to grate a cooked potato without getting it all mushy? We decided to boil the potato till soft, but not mushed, and the texture actually enabled it to grate. We also picked up a dry kind of potato (like the ones used for gnocchi), because these tend to be starchier.
“Delicious Easter Pudding”
[Our comments in brackets]
- 8 Eggs
- ½ lb grated potatoes (it ended up being just one large potato)
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 lemon
- Almonds (the recipe didn’t include amounts, just a handful- we used almond meal instead, ¼ cup)
- Salt (the recipe didn’t specify amount, but it seems like a pinch of salt will do, just to balance the sweetness)
Stir yolks and sugar (we stirred with a regular hand mixer, but you can use an electronic one if you’d like the pudding to be extra puffy); add a handful of blanched and pounded nuts (we just used almond meal), grated rind and a juice of lemon, then the potatoes, which should have boiled in jackets day before (you can also do it just 30 min before and let it cool down a bit before you grate them), and last beaten whites of eggs (an electric mixer can produce a nicer texture) and a pinch of salt.
Bake in greased pudding dish, set in pan of boiling water in the oven, and in half hour turn out on a platter and serve with wine sauce.
(We baked it for 30 minutes at 300 degrees)
As for the “wine sauce”, we weren’t sure what this would be, so we ended up making a syrupy reduced red wine sauce. We boiled 1 cup of red wine with 3 tbsp of sugar, and cooked it in an uncovered pot for 17 minutes. We added some strawberries to the sauce for nicer styling.
So how delicious is this “Delicious Easter Pudding”?
While making this recipe, we weren’t sure that this weird potato soufflé would make any sense, but it ended up being okay – not the most delicious thing, but generally sweet and comforting. Like most egg-based pastries, it was bigger right after baking, and shrunk after cooling. It is very, VERY sweet, so you might want to skip the wine sauce, which makes it even sweeter.
- The recipe and excerpts of the book are available online via University of Michigan
- Recipes for Reading: Community Cookbooks, Stories, Histories (book)
- Sisterhood: A Centennial History of Women of Reform Judaism (book)
- On community cookbook and social history (The Salt)
- Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote