By Gwen Underwood, Museum at Eldridge Street Intern
Pushcarts and crowded outdoor marketplaces were a common site for Eastern Europe Jewish immigrants – as can be seen in the Museum’s new exhibition “The Jewish Ghetto in Postcards: From Eastern Europe to the Lower East Side” on view December 15-through March 8, 2017. These early twentieth-century images depict the lively street life, markets and vendors of the neighborhood. Booths and pushcarts provided both a place for immigrants to buy goods and foods and also, for many, a livelihood. On bustling streets, these immigrants grappled with the challenges of adjusting to life in the New World.
At the heart of this cultural transition was food. While many Eastern European Jews retained their Orthodox traditions, others were eager to embrace American culture, and most were somewhere in between. Specifically for women, cooking became a means of preserving the culture and traditions of their homeland while incorporating newly available ingredients.
As Jews flooded into the United States in the late nineteenth century, the earlier population of German Jewish Americans who had been living in the country for decades became concerned that their Eastern European “cousins” would not be able acclimate smoothly to their new environment. They opened settlement houses, provided English classes, and funds. They also taught women how to maintain an American-style household.
In 1901, a Jewish woman from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, by the name of Lizzie Black Kander published The Settlement Cook Book: A Way to a Man’s Heart. It quickly became one of the nation’s most popular cookbooks. The goal of the collection was not only to aid Jewish immigrant women in adjusting to the cultural and culinary customs of the New World, but to teach them the practices of American homemaking. The book features countless Jewish, German and American recipes and served as a an encyclopedia of sorts for housewives and working women across the country.
Among its collection of tips and tricks is an in-depth “Food Classification” chart which defines which foods belong to each dietary group, as well as which items are considered organic and inorganic. In addition, the original 1901 edition offers a table illustrating the “Relative Value” of popular foods, including the total nutrients per cent, the amount required in ounces, and the total net cost of each item. It also included an extensive list of household rules for table setting, cleaning, and using various cooking instruments safely.
Below, I have provided some of the recipes from The Settlement Cookbook that relate most to the Museum’s new Postcards exhibition, and that show the marriage of cultures that was happening on the Lower East Side. Enjoy testing these recipes at home.
Bagel Pretzel Rolls:
The new Jewish Ghetto in Postcards exhibition features a story from Miriam Aaron, one of the Eldridge Street Synagogue’s early congregants. She shares an anecdote about her entrepreneurial grandmother and the deliciously soft pretzels that she sold to her neighbors on the corner of Grand and Essex Street. In honor of Miriam’s grandmother, I have included below The Settlement Cookbook’s version of the savory snack.
– 1 Cup Scalded Milk
– 1 Yeast Cake
– 1/4 Cup Butter
– 1 Egg (White)
– 1 1/2 Tablespoon Sugar
– 3 3/4 Cups Flour
– 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
Add butter, sugar and salt to milk; when lukewarm add yeast cake, white of egg well beaten, and flour. Knead, let rise, roll and shape pieces so that they are the width of your finger and twice the length, tapering into rings and pinching the ends well together. Let stand on board only until they begin to rise.
Fill large shallow pan half full of water. When very hot, but not boiling, drop rings in carefully one at a time. Let cook under the boiling point on one side, then turn with skimmer on the other and let cook. They must be light, keep their shape and not break apart when handled. Place in hot oven on thin baking tin or on clean floor of oven and let bake until crisp and golden brown. Sprinkle with salt or poppy seed if desired.
Many variations of the traditional croquette were popular among turn-of-the-twentieth century housewives. However, for Eastern European Jewish women, certain ingredients such as salmon
were only newly available in the United States. The availability of canned foods also made recipes easier and cheaper to make. However, feel free to use fresh fish when preparing this dish for yourself and your family.
– 1 lb Canned Salmon
– 1/4 Cup Cracker Crumbs
– 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
– 1/2 Teaspoon Grated Onion
– Cayenne Pepper
– 1 Well Beaten Egg
– 1 Tablespoon Chopped Parsley
From a can of salmon, opened neatly, take the fish and mince it fine; add salt and pepper, add a tablespoonful of chopped parsley or celery tops and cracker crumbs; moisten it with a raw egg and mix well, turn it out upon a dish; then roll it into cones. Dip these in beaten egg, seasoned with salt and pepper; roll them in bread crumbs and drop into deep, hot fat. Fry a delicate brown, drain them a moment, and arrange neatly on a hot dish.
Pfeffernüsse cookies were just one of the many traditional holiday desserts enjoyed by the earlier wave of German Jewish American immigrants. This recipe is one of many examples of the cultural crossover between Jewish Americans of varying backgrounds, which was both inspired and encouraged by The Settlement Cookbook.
– 2 Cups Sugar
– 1/2 Teaspoon Cloves
– 4 Eggs
– 3 Teaspoons Cinnamon
– 6 oz. Almonds
– 4 Cups Flour
– 4 oz. Citron
– 1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
– 2 oz. Orange Peel
– 1/4 Cup Brandy
Beat eggs and sugar well together; blanch and grate the almonds and cut the citron and orange peel fine, or use grated rind of one lemon or orange. Sift dry ingredients and mix all together with the brandy. Butter hands and shape mixture into balls, size of a hickory nut. Bake on buttered tins one inch apart; let stand over night. Bake in a moderate oven. Let stand two weeks before using. Although the recipe does not state what temperature to bake the cookies at, we recommend 350 degrees. Bake until golden.