October 17, 2013
Australia’s Jewish cooking club
In the cookbook collection of nearly every Jewish family sits a sincere yet amateur plastic-ring-bound volume of recipes. A group of women known as the Monday Morning Cooking Club has adopted this tried-and-true sisterhood tradition of culinary anthropology and recipe collecting and brought it into contemporary food culture, via Sydney, Australia.
Professional food styling and graphic design, plus the backing of a major publishing house, do nothing to diminish the spirit of their debut cookbook, “Monday Morning Cooking Club: The Food, The Stories, The Sisterhood.” Initially self-published in Australia, the paperback has been available in the United States since last month. The group recently passed through New York City and Los Angeles as part of a brief promotional tour.
Lisa Goldberg, Natanya Eskin and Merelyn Frank Chalmers held court for a few hours at Joan’s on Third recently, where owner Joan McNamara’s endorsement was enough to bring in a steady stream of book buyers. A handful of Aussies — some known to the visitors, some not — came out of the woodwork to get a dose of life back home and hear about how their modern-day sisterhood has influenced current food culture.
Then Dana Slatkin, a chef, culinary educator and founder of the Beverly Hills Farmers Market, who is also known as the Beverly Hills Farmgirl, hosted the three in her home for a social morning of cooking (or observing, technically) and eating.
Goldberg explained that the Monday Morning Cooking Club eventually wanted “to create a cookbook that could sit next to any cookbook in the world.” (In other words: No plastic ring binders.) To get started, they began getting together on Monday mornings in 2006. All friends — mothers with flexible schedules that enabled them to meet during the week — they reached out to their community to create a book that would serve as a repository of recipes from Sydney’s best cooks. All the better if they got their hands on recipes that had been passed down among generations.
For these women, who also include Jacqui Israel, Paula Horwitz, and Lauren Fink, Monday mornings became dedicated to cooking and testing the material that they gathered from friends and relatives, and that came in thanks to word of mouth through Australia’s Jewish community. Given the breadth of the Diaspora (the nation received significant numbers of Jews following the Holocaust, and immigration into the continent still continues, particularly among South African Jews), the collection reflects the diverse influences present in Australian kitchens. Australia’s Jewish population is currently estimated at 100,000.
The book is essentially “an anthology of 65 cooks” vetted by the six core members, Chalmers said. The recipes, which in sum have a heavily Jewish slant, capture the traditions of previous generations while also reflecting today’s sensibilities. “We don’t necessarily cook Jewish food. It’s food Jewish people in Sydney cook at this time. It’s a snapshot,” she clarified.
Each contributor’s section features an introduction with personal and family history, and nearly every recipe includes a specific story about that dish. The result is a collective account of the Jewish community throughout Australia, with accessible recipes and plenty of inspiring, gorgeous photos. A second volume is currently in progress; according to Goldberg, when complete, the set will cover almost all the classics of Ashkenazi Jewish cooking, plus recipes that originate in far-flung locales such as Iraq, India, Israel and Burma.
As Slatkin and the MMCC women — or “girls,” as they refer to themselves — demonstrated a few dishes to constitute an elegant, seasonal, light lunch befitting this particular demographic, their humor and warmth radiated through. Nor do they shy away from healthy disagreements about all things related to cooking. “We love arguing,” Goldberg said.
Eskin retorted, “Six women together in a kitchen. Can you imagine?”
Eskin touched on some of the research methods and fieldwork involved, noting that with certain women, “every week it would be a different-sized handful” of ingredients. After years of amassing information, “We’ve preserved their recipes forever. It brings tears to my eyes. It’s such a beautiful thing to have.” Most recipes were handed over willingly, but others required persistence.
All profits from the book and other kitchen items sold on the Web site go to charity, including organizations such as OzHarvest, a food distribution network, and various Jewish causes. In keeping with the Monday Morning Cooking Club’s mission and spirit of generosity, Slatkin donated a portion of the Los Angeles class and book sale proceeds to the SOVA Community Food and Resource Program.
When the demonstration wrapped up and the participants milled about to get their books signed and eat lunch, Slatkin pointed to one of the Monday Morning Cooking Club’s best, if not necessarily deliberate, accomplishments. “I feel like we’ve bridged generations and oceans with this class.”
One of the recipes Slatkin asked the trio to prepare reflects the reach of the Monday Morning Cooking Club. Maxine Pacanowski’s cinnamon apple pie “is one you could really play with,” Chalmers noted. A pile of sliced apples topped with an egg, flour, oil and sugar mixture and baked in a springform pan, this dessert, which is more of a cake than a pie in the American sense, found a certain notable fan. Cookbook author and TV personality Nigella Lawson learned of the Monday Morning Cooking Club when she was in Australia, ordered a copy of the book back in London, and wrote on her Web site about how she had adapted the cinnamon and apple pie recipe to her own particular tastes.
Both in reference to the recipe’s overall utility and its celebrity follower, “It’s a superstar cake now,” Goldberg proudly said. Try it and find out for yourself..
MAXINE PACANOWSKI’S CINNAMON AND APPLE PIE
- 6 to 8 Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 cups light olive or vegetable oil
- 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or experiment with alternative flours, such as spelt)
- Extra cinnamon-sugar (optional), for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease and line the base and side of a springform cake pan.
Layer the apple slices in the prepared pan so they come about two-thirds of the way up the side. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar over the apples.
Make a batter by beating the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the oil and vanilla and beat well; then stir in the flour. Spoon the batter on top of the apples and sprinkle with the extra cinnamon-sugar if desired.
Bake for 1 hour 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.
TALIA GOLDBERG’S SALMON WITH A SESAME AND GINGER CRUST
- 1 heaping tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1/4 cup sherry
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1 bunch scallions (approximately 12 stems), finely sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
- 4 salmon fillets, skinned and boned
Preheat the oven’s broiler to its maximum temperature. Cover a flat oven tray with aluminum foil.
Mix the ginger and garlic in a small bowl, then add the sherry, sesame oil, sesame seeds, scallions and salt. Stir to combine.
Place the salmon fillets on the tray and spoon a thick layer of the sesame mixture on top. You may cook the salmon immediately or cover and refrigerate until you wish to cook it — up to 24 hours.
Place the tray under the hot broiler (on the second to top or top shelf) for 7-10 minutes, or until the fish is cooked to your liking and the topping has blackened a little.
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- 1/4 vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- Half small Savoy or half red cabbage (or a mixture), shredded
- 1/2 cup whole toasted almonds, roughly chopped
- 1 heaped tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
To make the dressing, put the sugar and vinegar in a saucepan and place over low heat. Add a drop of water and stir to dissolve the sugar. Allow the vinegar mixture to cool, then place in a large jar with the oil and soy sauce, and shake to combine.
Place the cabbage in a serving bowl and add the almonds and sesame seeds. Pour the dressing over the cabbage and toss to combine.