Jewish Journal

The Artistry of ‘Art’

From Matzo Balls to Blubarb Pie

by Gene Lichtenstein

January 21, 1999 | 7:00 pm

n it debuted in the summer of 1994, Saveur reinvented the food magazine genre by focusing, like any good chef, as much on ingredients as on finished dishes. With its expertly lit and angled close-ups, the magazine gave food the same kind of attention most magazines devote to celebrities. Gone were the tedious little features on "Meals in Minutes" and "Gourmet St. Tropez." In were centerfold-style spreads on English farmhouse cheeses and Oregon morels -- illustrated with the kind of bold, invasive photographs that you normally see only in Vanity Fair.

The new "Saveur Cooks Authentic American" cookbook (Chronicle, $40) extracts and compiles the best American ingredients and recipes from the magazine. You can construct quite a meal from its pages, starting with Gillie Feuer's Chicken Soup and Matzo Ball recipe and proceeding to Roast Chicken (to keep it kosher, substitute olive oil or schmaltz for the butter) and a small, superb array of American desserts. Our favorite -- a blueberry and rhubarb concoction called, simply, Blubarb Pie.

After dinner, you'll want to climb in the car and set out across America, eating exactly what Saveur discovered. -- Rob Eshman, Managing Editor

The Deli Gene

I hand my 2 1/2-year-old daughter a piece of lox. It is sheer, the color of an orange lollipop, and streaked with fat. My daughter takes it in her hand, tilts her head back, and slurps it down her throat. "She eats lox like a seal," says my wife, beaming.

Actually, no. My daughter, Noa, eats lox like her mother, her grandmothers, and her great-grandmothers. She eats lox like me and my father and grandfather.

Why children like or dislike certain foods is a mystery. The experts tell us that if you give toddlers the same food, say, raw tofu, a dozen times, eventually they'll accept it. Perhaps. But will they ever devour it, as Noa does lox? And whitefish? And herring and matzo balls and chicken soup and half-sour pickles? "It has to be in the genes," says my friend, Warren. He has one daughter in England and one in Brentwood, and both took to traditional Jewish foods at an age when most kids gag on anything but grilled cheese and hot dogs.

Fascinating. Is there a gene in Ashkenazic Jews for loving lox? Does a 2-year-old in Seoul get as excited over a paint-peeling scoop of kimchi as mine does over smoked sturgeon? When scientists finally map out the gene code, they might find that traits we assumed to be purely cultural are in fact hard-wired.

In his new book, "Turbulent Souls," Stephen Dubner writes about how his father, who converted to devout Catholicism, returned from Mass each Sunday and ate gefilte fish for lunch. He could give up the faith, but not the food. It's hardly surprising that when Dubner, raised Catholic, returns to his Jewish roots, he finds himself taking easily to the food. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously wrote that as much as the Jewish people have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jewish people. True, but don't underestimate the roast chicken and gribines that goes along with it. -- Rob Eshman, Managing Editor

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