“God’s Cook Book” with a bulghur pilaf recipe

Note to readers: If you have a favorite recipe that comes with a good story about family, friendship, faith or tradition, consider doing a guest blog for Feed the Spirit! Contact Bobbie Lewis at [email protected] with your ideas.

God's Cook Book Arcadian Lifestyle books by Jamie d'AntiocIt takes a certain amount of hubris to call one’s literary creation God’s Cook Book. To author Jamie d’Antioc’s credit, the subtitle is Tracing the Cultinary Traditions of the Levant.

What is “the Levant” anyway? I had a general idea  of the meaning of this quaint, somewhat Victorian-sounding term, but just to be sure I looked it up. It means the region bordering the eastern edge of the Mediterranean, from northern Egypt to Turkey more or less – and therefore includes the lands of the Bible.

A gorgeous book

This is one gorgeous book, but I don’t find it really useful as a cookbook. For one thing, it’s huge, measuring 9 x 12 inches and weighing more than 4.8 pounds. But it can be a useful resource for anyone studying ancient Middle Eastern civilizations.

God’s Cook Book is lavishly illustrated with watercolors of plants, fruits and vegetables mentioned in the book as well as some showing scenes of life in the ancient Levant: camel caravans, harvesting, goat herding and more. The author thanks his mother for her choice of illustrations from the family archives.

Jamie d’Antioc, an engineer by training, served as chairman of several major financial institutions. Even though he ate in some of the world’s best restaurants, he was drawn back to the food prepared by his grandmother, who lived to be 108. He says her ideas about cuisine and its links to spirituality and longevity inspired this book.

That’s what his publisher says anyway. I found very little other information online about the author, who I’d never heard of before.

Foods “sent by God”

In his introduction, d’Antioc says he wanted to recapture his grandmother’s recipes and link them with an understanding of the foods we have eaten throughout history, “the foods sent to us by God.”

Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad, founders of the world’s principal monotheistic faiths, led similar lives, ate similar food and led their lives guided by God, says d’Antioc. He finds ample evidence in the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Quran and Hadith (the recording sayings and act of Muhammad) about the kinds of food we should eat as well as how and when to eat them.

The book avoids any foods that are prohibited by any of the three faiths so that the recipes can be used by anyone who follows the dietary rules of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

An illustration from God's Cook Book

An illustration from God’s Cook Book

Before getting into the recipes, d’Antioc provides a short history of the Levant and an overview of ancient cooking methods and eating habits.

The book is divided into sections including Herbs, spices and other flavors; Bread; Dairy; Simple & side dishes (mostly salads); Soups & stews; Grain; Vegetables; Fish; Poultry; Meat; and more. Each section has its own introduction, followed by recipes. But the rationale for the organization of recipes isn’t always clear and you’ll find some in each section that seem like they belong elsewhere.

Quotations from scripture

Each section is also accompanied by verses from one of the holy books. At the start of the Grain section, where I found today’s recipe, is this, from Deuteronomy (24:19): “When you reap your harvest in your field, and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow; that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”

Subsections also have explanations and quotations from the scriptures.

At the end of the book is a section on Inspired Eating, which includes subsections on Fasting, Digestion, Cleanliness, Prayer and more. There are lists of good recipes for weight loss, for vegetarians, for feasting and for children.

An illustration from God's Cook Book

An illustration from God’s Cook Book

In all honesty, I didn’t find too many recipes I’m eager to try. Many use grains, herbs or other ingredients that aren’t easy to procure. How often have you seen melokhia in a store!?! But this one, for a pilaf of burghul (aka bulgar, aka cracked wheat), looked good and gave me an opportunity to use the pomegranate concentrate I’d made a few weeks ago by boiling down a quart-and-a-half of pomegranate juice (on sale at Costco) to one cup.

One change: I didn’t want to bother making clarified butter so I used olive oil instead.

It was a very tasty side dish and, aside from having to make the pomegranate concentrate, very easy.

While I wouldn’t recommend this as a cookbook, it’s a lovely coffee-table tome, and it would make a nice gift for a cookbook collector or anyone interested in Middle Eastern culture.

Jean Alicia Elster: Memories & flavors from ‘The Colored Car’

Jean Alicia Elster, photo by William L. Elster

Jean Alicia Elster, photo by William L. Elster

(A note from your FeedTheSpirit host Bobbie Lewis) This week’s blog is by guest writer Jean Alicia Elster, whose work as a writer is recommended by our ReadTheSpirit magazine. Our latest coverage of her children’s book The Colored Car was published in Debra Darvick’s column in September.  She is the granddaughter of Douglas and Maber (May) Jackson Ford, whose family story forms the basis of The Colored Car. Her other books include Who’s Jim Hines?—which was selected as a Michigan Notable Book—as well as I’ll Do the Right Thing and I Have a Dream, Too!



I offer this paraphrase of a commonly quoted Biblical passage from 2 Thessalonians 3:10: If you do not work, then you will not eat.

This phrase is often quoted as an admonition against idleness and laziness. I dare say it is the reason that people standing at the corners of well-traveled intersections of our urban centers or even at freeway exits hold up signs saying, “Will work for food.” It is ingrained within our Judeo-Christian notion of ethics that expecting a meal or other form of sustenance without doing something in return to warrant the receipt of that meal is, well, sinful.

That said, while writing my most recently published book, The Colored Car, which takes place in the city of Detroit in 1937, I came to appreciate another take on the 2Thessalonians verse. This second paraphrase embodies the food ethos of that particular era in our American history that is too often lost in our 21st century world of carryout meals and processed food: If you do not work in the preparation of your food or your meal, then you will not eat.

‘The Colored Car’: A novel based on family history

Author Jean Alicia Elster with her grandmother, Mayber "May" Ford at her grandfather's wood yard. The photo is from the Ford Family Archives.

Author Jean Alicia Elster with her grandmother, Mayber “May” Ford, at her grandfather’s wood yard. The photo is from the Ford Family Archives.

The Colored Car is based upon actual events in my family’s history. And, in the summer of 1937, my grandmother, “May” Ford, put up (canned) fresh fruits and vegetables in the family’s summer kitchen adjacent to the wood yard that was the core of my grandfather’s business. Times were tough, and my grandmother often helped neighborhood families by sharing the food that she preserved.

In Chapter One, I describe my grandmother chopping, grinding, grating, boiling and, not to forget, sweating to make that pungent mixture of cabbage, onions, celery, hot peppers, green tomatoes, vinegar and pickling spices known as piccalilli or cha-cha. That substantial concoction could stand on its own as a side dish or be heaped on a sandwich. The not-even-close approximation we have to that today is the unnaturally green-colored relish found in the condiment section of the grocery store.

Homemade grape jelly

Chapter Six tells how May Ford made jars of grape jelly. She washed and boiled bushels of grapes and then strained them – twice – through a muslin bag. Her hands were, at that point, purple, and she was only half way through the jelly-making process.

No, we will never return to the days when work and food were that closely related. We are firmly in the 21st  century and there is no turning back. But that Biblical admonition at the very least mandates  that we, even occasionally, seek a more direct relationship between work and food. That we feel the satisfaction of making — that is, causing to come into being — what we eat.

Having written those chapters and internalized those processes, I am now ready to more fully embrace the connection between work and food. Piccalilli and grape jelly provide a very good start!

Get ready for “Thanksgivukkah”

Potato latkesThe Jewish holiday of Chanukah usually falls in December, often close to Christmas. This leads to what some Jews call “the December dilemma” – how to celebrate our holiday in a meaningful and fun way without making it seem like “the Jewish Christmas,” because the two celebrations have absolutely nothing in common.

This year, due to a quirk of the calendar, the first day of Chanukah coincides with Thanksgiving. It’s not much of a problem to celebrate the two in tandem, because Thanksgiving, though it has spiritual overtones, is not a religious holiday and there’s nothing about it that makes Jews uneasy about celebrating it. Writers who think they’re clever have taken to adopting the term “Thanksgivukkah.”

A rare congruence

I think everyone is going so crazy about it because it is so exceedingly rare. Data crunchers have discovered that the first time the two holidays would have coincided was 1861–but there was no all-American Thanksgiving then; President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the first Thanksgiving in 1863. Until 1942, Thanksgiving was the last Thursday in November; now it’s the fourth Thursday in November (sometimes there are five). In 1888, Chanukah started on Thanksgiving Day because it was the last Thursday of November, November 29. The next time the start of Chanukah and Thanksgiving will coincide will be–well, maybe never! From now on, due to the way the Jewish calendar is organized, the earliest Chanukah can start will be November 29, which is too late to ever be Thanksgiving.

But wait, there’s more! The Jewish calendar is slowly getting out of sync with the Gregorian calendar, by a few days per thousand years. This calendar drift means the Jewish calendar will slowly loop through the Gregorian calendar until it’s back where it is now. But that won’t happen until the year 79811 – and the most prestigious rabbis will probably get together before then to correct it so that the fall holidays will remain in the fall and the spring holidays will remain in the spring.

Then again, Jewish holidays always start at sundown, so even though the first day of Chanukah is on Thanksgiving this year, we’ll begin lighting Chanukah candles the night before Thanksgiving.  In 2070 and 2165, the first day of Chanukah will fall on the day after Thanksgiving; in those years, the first candle will be lit on Thanksgiving Day after sundown. Maybe that will count as another “Thanksgivukkah,” maybe it won’t.

For some interesting charts comparing the Jewish and Gregorian calendars, see this blog by Jonathan Mizrahi (where I got a lot of this information).

The Menurkey, a Chanukah menorah for Thanksgiving

The Menurkey, a Chanukah menorah for Thanksgiving

Newspapers, magazines and websites are having a heyday with articles about how to combine the celebration of Thanksgiving and Chanukah. One enterprising retailer is even selling a turkey-shaped Chanukah menorah called a Menurkey.

Some clergy are looking for ways to combine the Thanksgiving message of gratitude with the Chanukah message of dedication (the literal meaning of the word, for the rededication of the Temple after the Jewish victory over the Assyrians). One who does it well is Rabbi Yael Levy in this table blessing.

A Thanksgivukkah grinch

Grinches are usually associated with Christmas. If there’s a Thanksgivukkah version, it’s probably Rabbi David Brenner who wrote “Why I Will Not Be Celebrating ‘Thanksgivukkah’”  for the Huffington Post. He says mash-ups dilute the message of both holidays. Thanksgiving helps all Americans overcome the divisions that separate us, he says.

In the rituals celebrating this fall harvest festival, we Americans are united in connecting to our land and the good things it produces. Chanukah is the opposite. Rather than celebrating the coming together of disparate parties, like the Native Americans and the Pilgrims, it commemorates a military victory in second century BCE Judea. The Maccabees were not a tolerant lot, but they triumphed over a much larger force. Rabbi Brenner says Chanukah could better be compared with Independence Day.

(See a cute anti-Thanksgivukkah video by Rabbi Brenner on the Heeb Magazine website.)

Cook New World foods in oil!

Most of the “whee-it’s Thanksgivukkah” articles are food-related, because that seems to be the easiest way to combine the traditions of Thanksgiving and Chanukah. As I pointed out last week, traditional Chanukah foods are fried or baked in oil, to symbolize the Chanukah miracle: when the Maccabees overcame the Assyrians and reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem, they could find only one tiny cruse of pure oil for the Eternal Light, enough for one day. They lit the lamp, and the oil lasted for eight days, until more oil could be procured.

Sufganiyot -- jelly donuts -- are a popular Chanukah treat in Israel.

Sufganiyot — jelly donuts — are a popular Chanukah treat in Israel.

So for “Thanksgivukkah,” just combine a harvest-y and New World food (e.g. cranberries, sweet potatoes, pumpkin) with an oily preparation and you’re all set: potato latkes (pancakes) with cranberry sauce, or latkes made from sweet potatoes or squash, or pumpkin doughnuts.  Or if you’re adventurous, deep fry your turkey! There are some good recipes on the MyJewishDetroit website.

Personally, I’m very much looking forward to celebrating the two holidays together. Thanksgiving is a big deal in my family, the one time of year when my siblings and I all get together. My brother in New Jersey and my sister outside Washington, DC take turns hosting. When our children were little we would deliver Chanukah gifts at Thanksgiving because it was easier than shipping them later, but we were never able to celebrate Chanukah together. This year will be a first.

In the spirit of Chanukah, with a bit of a fall-harvest-Thanksgiving flavor, I offer this recipe for Cinnamon-Apple Latkes. They can be served as a side dish or a dessert. Whenever I’ve made them I’ve gotten rave reviews and requests for the recipe. This recipe makes about 16 latkes. Happy holidays, everyone! 

Celebrating the Season of Gratitude

Photo by Evelyn Lim

Photo by Evelyn Lim

As Thanksgiving approaches, many of us start thinking about what we’re grateful for. I asked my Facebook friends and got some interesting answers:

  • I’m grateful that you and I are still breathing, still know each other and still have our wits about us!
  • I am grateful for so many births and young people in the family for filling a small part of the space lost from loved ones departed. I am grateful those departed are forever woven into the fabric of our lives and not so gone after all.
  • I’m grateful more than anything for lessons in human awareness. Learning how to be kinder, more compassionate, whatever the circumstance, for speaking up for what is true to me instead of suppressing emotions. Those close to me would say this is a very good thing.
  • I’m thankful for my mom. Even though she’s been gone for almost 10 years, she’s still my best friend and my rock. Every day, I still feel like she’s right by my side. I’m so thankful for all the days I was able to laugh, hug, and hear her voice.
  • I am most grateful for all those I know who are more about “us” than “me,” who have a social conscience.
  • I am most grateful for the full, rich life I have, which has nothing to do with “stuff” and everything to do with having an awesome son, amazing and loving family and friends, and a deep spiritual connection to my religion.
  • Having worked in hospice for the last 10 years, I have learned to be grateful for the things that we take for granted. I find myself, daily, being grateful for my wonderful parents, who nurtured me, gave me a strong Jewish identity including moral guidelines and a strong sense of awe for the miracles that are daily with us. Due to this safe, nurturing home, all of the other blessings in my life have followed.

One thing I am grateful for is being a board member of WISDOM, Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue in Metro Detroit, an amazing and diverse group of women committed to fostering interfaith connections through friendship.

In fact, a book by WISDOM members, Friendship & Faith, was one of the first books published by Read the Spirit!

In about 10 days, WISDOM will host one of its periodic potluck dinners, where participants are encouraged to bring dishes that represent their religious or ethnic heritage.

This is a good month for a WISDOM potluck, because it perfectly defines the type of Season of Gratitude event envisioned by the  Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit (IFLC).

Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation

Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

We associate Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims, and churches and villages in the colonial and early American periods often held annual harvest dinners similar to the first Thanksgiving.

But Thanksgiving didn’t truly become an American holiday until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln’s issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation, inviting “my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

You’ll find lots of fascinating historical materials about Lincoln and Thanksgiving at our Lincoln Resource Page. In addition, the IFLC has prepared a guide, available online, to help congregations and organizations plan a Season of Gratitude event—a “salon” (discussion group), or meal, or a combination—that is open to people of all faiths. “The event should celebrate and demonstrate gratitude for all of the diverse contributions people make to our civic community,” notes the IFLC’s guide.

Here is the recipe for the dish I plan to bring to the WISDOM potluck: Jerusalem kugel. A kugel is a pudding, It’s most often made of noodles, but can also be made of potatoes, corn, rice, zucchini or just about any grain or vegetable bound with eggs and baked. Most people pronounce it with a “u” like in “sugar,” but others say “koogle” or even “kiggle.”

A Jerusalem kugel is a sweet-and-spicy noodle pudding, with lots of caramelized sugar and black pepper.

I’m also planning to bring it to my sister’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, because Thanksgiving this year coincides with Chanukah. That’s a subject for another blog. Suffice it to say that traditional Chanukah foods use a lot of oil, usually to fry the food in. This dish is not fried, but it does use a lot of oil so it qualifies.

Jerusalem kugel for sale at a Jerusalem market

Jerusalem kugel for sale at a Jerusalem market

Most recipes direct you to cook the noodles, then caramelize the sugar in the oil and add it to the noodles with the eggs. I adapted this recipe from one that appeared in the New York Times in 2005. You caramelize the sugar first, then add water to it for cooking the noodles. I found this to be an easier method that results in a smoother consistency, without little hard bits of caramelized sugar in the kugel. It’s somewhat time-consuming but well worth the effort.

You have to be careful when caramelizing the sugar. If you let it go even 30 seconds too long, it will burn. And if you’ve never done it, you may not know what to expect. This is what happens when you mix the sugar with the oil and heat it: First the sugar will seem to dissolve, but much of the oil will remain separate. As the mixture continues to cook, it will seem to solidify as the oil is absorbed, and you’ll have clumps of moistened sugar. Keep stirring. Finally the sugar will start to melt and turn brown. Stir it constantly and watch it like a hawk. As soon as the color is golden brown, almost as dark as you want, pull it off the flame–I say “almost” because the hot syrup will continue to cook for short while.

This makes a very large kugel, enough to feed 12 or more. To make a smaller kugel, use 8 ounces of noodles, ⅓ cup oil, 1¼ tsp. salt, ½ tsp. black pepper, 1 cup sugar and 3 eggs, and bake it in an 8-inch square pan.

Got pickle questions? Please, just ask us …

A jar of half-sour pickles

A jar of half-sour pickles

Got questions? Feed The Spirit hopes to help! Here’s an example …

Constant reader and Read the Spirit columnist Debra Darvick had a few questions about making pickles, after reading guest writer Eliezer Finkelman’s recent Feed The Spirit column: Pickles with character! Tips for pickling more than cucumbers. Debra asked about using an enameled metal pot for fermenting and also whether the crock should be covered.

We asked Eli to respond:

It gives me great pleasure to try to help my friend Debra with pickle-related questions.

I do not know the answer about enameled metal. I would worry about whether the iron might react with the brine, if there exist any cracks in the enamel. I would prefer a non-reactive vessel, such as glass or plastic.

You do not want a tight-fitting lid. As the pickles ferment, the brine gives off a gas. As my son discovered in his first attempt at copying his father-in-law’s pickle recipe, if you let it ferment in a sealed vessel, the vessel will explode, and your kitchen will smell of pickles for a substantial time thereafter.

Or you could have a tight-fitting lid, as long as you do not seal it tightly. Covering the vessel as the pickles ferment serves to keep “stuff” out. People usually use cloth. You also might want to cover the cukes and tomatoes with a weighted plate to keep the cukes below the brine level.

(Feed The Spirit host Bobbie Lewis adds: My daughter took one look at my plastic tub of fermenting veggies and said, “You should cover that”—so we put the tub lid on top of the tub slightly askew, and didn’t fasten it.) 

The whitish froth on the top of a batch of fermenting pickles  occurs as a normal part of the process.
You can get peppercorns at supermarkets or groceries without too much trouble, I think. I have not tried pickles w/o peppercorns, but I bet they would work, just tasting a little different. (Bobbie: Look for “whole black pepper” in the spice aisle.)
The pickles ripen faster in hot weather than in cold. Taste them after a few days at room temperature, and you might find half-sours. After a week or two at room temperature, you probably will taste old-fashioned sour pickles. These pickles should look and taste like classic sour pickles.

If you started with large cucumbers, the texture might feel a little different: not as firm.

Good luck, and hearty appetite!

Got questions? Feed The Spirit hopes to help! Add your question as a Comment, below. And, please, share these columns with friends by clicking on the blue-“f” Facebook icon or the envelope-shaped email icon.

Pickles with character! Tips for pickling more than cucumbers.

This week’s blog is by Louis (aka Eliezer) Finkelman, a rabbi, scholar, teacher and freelance writer as well as a gardener, cook, home brewer and vintner and assistant to the cheese-maker with whom he shares his Southfield, Michigan home.

UPDATE: Got questions on pickling? Just ask by adding a comment below. Eli already has answered one set of questions here.

Eli Finkelman with his cucumber plants

Eli Finkelman with his cucumber plants

Robust cucumber plants in my backyard garden have started to flower, and when that happens, my thoughts return to pickles.  About this time of year, I remember Mr. Fenster’s sour pickles, which contributed significantly to the joy to my childhood.

Barrel pickles by the pound

We bought our pickles at Mr. Fenster’s Appetizing Store under the elevated subway station a few blocks from the New York house where I grew up. We walked to that store about every week; I even worked there one summer. Pickled cucumbers and green tomatoes floated in a huge wooden barrel near the entrance to the store. Like the other customers, we would bring a glass jar, washed since it last held jelly or peanut butter. Other customers might ask for “half sours,” but we would ask for “sours.” While we watched, Mr. Fenster stuffed the jar with the maximum number of pickles, and poured brine, “pickle juice,” over them to fill the jar.

These pickles had character.

When the experts at Consumer Reports rated commercial pickles last year, they were not looking for anything like Mr. Fenster’s sour pickles. Consumer Reports wanted vinegar-cured pickles that have bright colors, crispy skins and crunchy textures. I have no nostalgic feelings for vinegar-cured pickles.

Produced by natural fermentation

A crock of sour pickles

A crock of sour pickles

A jar of half-sour pickles

A jar of half-sour pickles

Sour pickles get produced by natural fermentation, just like bread, sour cream, yogurt, wine and beer. Microorganisms change the sugar in cucumbers into lactic acid.  If you want to make anything that relies on fermentation, you learn to keep the little microorganisms happy. When they’re happy, they will do nice things to your food.

The trick to sour pickles is having the right amount of salt in your brine. Too much salt and the microorganisms do not thrive, the brine stays clear, and you wind up with something that tastes like a salted cucumber. Too little salt, and who knows what might happen! If you get the right amount,  the microorganisms thrive. After a few days, gas bubbles out of the salt water, which turns greenish and cloudy, giving off a magic aroma. What were once mere cucumbers turn first to half-sours, and then to that triumph of culinary art, the sour pickle.

Keep those microorganisms happy!

Eli Finkelman prepares to pickle his first harvest of cukes.

Eli Finkelman prepares to pickle his first harvest of cukes.

So how much salt makes the right little microorganisms happy? Sandor Katz, in his book Wild Fermentationsays between two and three tablespoons per quart of water, yielding a solution between 3.6 and 5.4 percent salt by weight. Jamie Geller, author of the “Joy of Kosher” blog,  recommends one-half cup per gallon, which agrees with Katz’s lower number. Use kosher salt or pickling salt, not iodized table salt.

Some recipes insist on stuffing as many cukes as possible into your fermentation jar. That seems to me like nostalgia for what Mr. Fenster did after the pickles had fermented. You can do this if you want to; it may help keep the cukes below the level of the brine. But the cukes will pickle just as nicely if they swim freely in a tub. The important thing is not to let them above the brine.

The pickles turn sour because the little microorganisms produce lactic acid. The longer you wait, the more intense the sour flavor.  Eat them when they are as sour as you like them.

Add some spices

Besides the salt and water, it’s spices that give the pickles the traditional “kosher pickle” flavor. Do not use a package of pickling spices from the supermarket; it  might include all sorts of spices that belong nowhere near a sour pickle, such as cloves and allspice other items that belong with a vinegar pickle.

For every quart of brine, add a few whole, peeled cloves of garlic, a few peppercorns, a few mustard seeds, and some dill – either dill seeds or feathery dill leaves.  Mr. Fenster also added a few tiny dried hot peppers, and you should too, unless you cannot stand the heat.

Use fresh, small cukes. Keep them whole, but cut off the blossoms.

If you pickle cukes in a glass jar, shake it up a couple of times a day, to make sure that the brine can touch every spot on every cucumber. Be sure there are no air pockets. If you make pickles in a plastic bucket or a crock, swirl it around and make sure that no cucumbers float above the surface. The surface might turn moldy, but the pickles, under the moldy surface, are doing fine.

In Wild Fermentation, Sandor Katz suggests putting a weighted plate on the surface of the brine, to keep the cukes below sea level. You can let keep them in the fridge, or you can let them ferment faster at room temperature, like Mr. Fenster did. (Katz also has a blog with the same name, Wild Fermentation.)

Try this idea to speed things up

A jar of pickled green tomatoes

A jar of pickled green tomatoes

I never saw this next idea in a recipe for pickles, but it works for every other fermented product, so I bet it would help with pickles. If you happen to have a jar of fermented pickles – the real thing, not the shelf-stable vinegar pickles – then you can add a splash of the brine from the pickle jar to your pickling brine. This will give a head start to the right kind of microorganisms in your jar or bucket or crock.  Mr. Fenster did not have to do that, because the right kind of microorganisms had been living in his wooden pickle barrel for years.

When the first frost warnings appear this fall, you might have a bucketful of green tomatoes in your garden and no good ideas for what to do with them. Do not despair!  Pickle the tomatoes the same way you pickled the cucumbers, or pickle a mixed barrel of cukes and tomatoes.

How do you know when the pickles are done?  A half-sour looks like a cucumber, maybe a little more translucent, and tastes like a cucumber, but saltier, and with a little sourish snap. A sour pickle looks translucent, is dull olive green in color, and tastes like, well, like one of the joys of my childhood, like a link to my ancestors.

When your pickles are sour, move them to the refrigerator, and keep them in the brine. Serve them with meat sandwiches, or chopped up in potato salad. Or, on a hot day when you have been working in the garden, just eat a whole sour pickle right out of the barrel!

If you need another pickle recipe or two here is one from Cookography and one from the New York Times.

Since making pickles is more of a method than a recipe, today’s recipe is for potato salad that includes a chopped sour pickle.

What foods bring you back to your childhood? Can you share a story and a recipe?

Welcome to Feed the Spirit! Got a story, a recipe, a question?

Bobbie Lewis in her kitchen, armed for this new challenge. BUT, the success of FeedTheSpirit ultimately depends on you, as readers, to share your stories, recipes, ideas and questions!

Bobbie Lewis in her kitchen, armed for this new challenge. BUT, the success of FeedTheSpirit ultimately depends on you, as readers, to share your stories, recipes, ideas and questions!

ReadTheSpirit is proud to introduce our newest department: FeedTheSpirit, a section we are launching to share stories, recipes and questions from readers about foods that are linked to faith and culture. Your host for this new department is veteran food writer Bobbie Lewis. She will keep stirring the pot in this new department, week by week, so you’ll always find a fascinating new story or recipe or Q&A each week.
Here is Bobbie’s first column …

In the immortal words of James Stockdale (who you’ve probably already forgotten was Ross Perot’s running mate in his third-party campaign for president in 1996), “Who am I and what am I doing here?”

There are a lot of words that could describe me: retiree, public relations professional, wife, mother (of 3), grandmother (of 1), Conservative Jew, liberal, feminist. If I had to sum up my professional career in one word it would be “writer.”

I started as a general assignment reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper. After moving to Michigan more than 36 years ago, I had a long career in communications for nonprofit organizations, including the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, Sinai Hospital, Hospice of Michigan and Lutheran Social Services.

I’m also someone who loves good food. I love to cook and as my scale shows—I also love to eat.

recipe folder

My recipe file – you can see why it needs organizing!

After I retired from full-time work last summer, I determined to get my recipes in order. They were scattered among a file box, an accordion-file folder, and more than one manila folder, not to mention several dozen cookbooks. In the course of transcribing all the clippings and handwritten cards I actually want to keep into a gigantic Word document (I reckon I’m about one-third of the way there), I decided to share my fave recipes via a blog, Bobbie’s Best Recipes.

This caught the attention of David Crumm, editor of ReadTheSpirit. I knew David from his days as religion writer at the Detroit Free Press, when I would pitch him religion-related stories about my employers. I’ve subscribed to ReadTheSpirit since its inception.

I have long been interested in interfaith relations. This may stem from seven years as the only Jewish girl in an almost completely Protestant elementary school class. I am active with WISDOM, which stands for Women’s Interfaith Dialogue for Solutions and Dialogue in Metro Detroit and is a group dedicated to promoting cross-cultural friendships. (WISDOM literally wrote the book on that, called Friendship & Faith.) Currently, I also serve on the planning committee for the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) conference to be held in Detroit in August 2014.

So when David invited me to moderate a blog about food and its relation to faith, family and culture, I leaped at the opportunity.

I hope many of you will help me in this effort by sharing, commenting or asking a question.

Do you have a great story about food that’s also about faith, family, friendship or culture? Please share it with me—I’m looking for guest bloggers who can take over this space from time to time.

Don’t hesitate to share your comments about any of the stories or recipes that appear here, And feel free to ask a question—about anything that might be unclear in a post or about something you’d like to see here. Perhaps you’re looking for a recipe connected to a religious holiday or an ethnic community and you haven’t been able to find it. We’ll put out the request, and maybe another reader will be able to help.

I hope you’ll think of FeedTheSpirit as an online community of people interested in food and in faith—and in how the twain often meet.