Eighteen Jewish folktales featuring food are paired with tried and true recipes in a festive new gift book for families to share. In their introduction, the mother and daughter team emphasize the tastiness that tradition adds to a meal. It’s definitely fun to match a story up to the particular food that follows. The tale of the restaurateur who now expects an outrageous return for the price of one egg given twenty-five years before is a natural paired with the recipe for shakshuka (Israeli poached eggs). “Three Clever Things,” where a grown son proves his identity by determining how to divide five chickens evenly among seven people, is followed by a recipe for Tsimmes Chicken.
Almost all of the dishes here are culturally familiar: latkes, matzo brei, challah, and bagels for brunch; chicken soup and matzo balls, pomegranate couscous, and noodle kugel for main dishes; desserts of honey cake and mini-cheesecakes. Stemple’s recipe style is conversational and reassuring. She offers full how-tos and suggests variations. Sidebars and notes throughout the book link dishes to their place in Jewish family life, holidays, and customs. The beginning states that this is “a cookbook for kids;” however, it is not for children to tackle alone. Certainly, the recipes for making dough for blintzes and rugelach from scratch are the most ambitious, but readers will want to try.
For many children, half of the folktales may be new, for they have not been widely circulated. Master writer Yolen adds names and homey details to some bare-bone tales and documents her sources. She offers supernatural surprises. For younger children, there are stories of the chanting imp in the vinegar jug who causes mischief while Rifka is en route to her grandmother’s with a magic pitcher of oil and of the little cap-wearers who have been milking a man’s cow. For older listeners, there is the story of a midwife who tricks the demoness, Lilith, by corking a milk jug in which a black hair has been found so that she will not harm the children to come. In another, the window through which the generous wife of a miserly rabbi has been passing food suddenly widens to accommodate her husband’s coffin. The most complex adaptation is a version of The Finger story, in which a young groom foolishly speaks wedding vows and plants the ring on a tree protrusion, which turns out to be the finger of a jealous demoness who kills his first two brides before the third bride figures out to leave gifts of jam to protect their family. This story is accompanied by a recipe for blintzes.
Playful, colorful collages with fabric and paint and round, readable type insure this collection of stories and recipes will receive a warm welcome.
Recommended for all ages and for parents and children to share.
From the ProsenPeople
Sharon Elswit, author of The Jewish Story Finder, now resides in San Francisco, where she has been helping students visiting 826 Valencia locations around the city to write stories and poems and getting adults up and retelling Jewish folktales to share with their own spin.