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Jewish Journal

If Memory Serves…

The Spring Selection of Cookbooks

by Rob Eshman

April 22, 1999 | 8:00 pm

Jewish-themed cookbooks appear in a frenzy about a month before Passover, then die off by May. Mainstream cookbooks also try to cash in on the warming weather's ability to make us imagine nectarine tarts and heirloom tomato salads, long before winter comes to the Chilean tomato export market.

Oddly enough, there's a subtext to most of these books, and it has little to do with cooking. Many of them are only partly about good recipes; rather, they are more about good memories. They set about re-creating lost moments of a Jewish past, and found the most compelling way to do so was by writing about food. The People of the Book evidently does not live by words alone.

* In "A Drizzle of Honey" (St. Martin's, $29.95), authors David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson use diaries and other historical texts to uncover the traditions and recipes of 15th- and 16th-century Spain's Crypto-Jews -- Jews forced to convert to Catholicism who nevertheless preserved their Jewish traditions. The result is more fascinating as cultural history than it is useful as a cookbook, but the stories poignantly reveal how, by keeping food traditions alive, these Jews maintained their identity.

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