Gefilte Manifesto makes Ashkenazi foods cool

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About five years ago I went to a program about sustainable food at Detroit’s Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue and met Jeffrey Yoskowitz, a young man visiting from New York who was about to open a company called the Gefilteria.

He and his partners, Liz Alpern and Jackie Lilinshtein, loved Ashkenazi cuisine – the foods invented, passed one and immortalized by the Jewish communities of Central and Eastern Europe.

In the last 50 years or so, Ashkenazi food has fallen out of favor. Too heavy, people say; too bland, too much fat, too much salt, not enough fresh produce.

Reclaiming gefilte fish

The Gefilteria aimed to reclaim gefilte fish and other typical Ashkenazi Jewish foods for the 21st century. As the founders explain on their website, “Jewish delis were closing. Our grandparents were getting too old to cook. Ashkenazi cuisine was perceived as a thing of the past, if perceived as a cuisine at all. We were friends in our 20s and we heard the call. It felt like something big was at stake. We came together with a fresh approach – to create a culinary laboratory where Ashkenazi stories and culinary wisdom from the Old World could be explored and brought into the New. So, we wrote a manifesto and launched The Gefilteria.”

The “Gefile Manifesto” tells what they’re about – and what they’re not. “Gefilte is not just about your bubbe. It is not about kitsch or a foodie revolution,” says the manifesto. “Gefilte is about serving a dish with pride, not simply out of deference to hollow convention. It is about taking food traditions seriously and reclaiming the glory of Ashkenazi food – what it has been and what it can be.”

The Wall Street Journal raved about the product: “Founders Elizabeth Alpern, Jackie Lilinshtein and Jeffrey Yoskowitz have crafted an elegant terrine-like gefilte from whitefish and pike, topped with a pale-pink layer of salmon and steelhead trout, and blast-frozen to preserve the dish’s delicate texture and flavor. It makes for an attractive and festive plate, all the more so garnished with Gefilteria’s own jewel-toned horseradish, in sweet beet and zesty carrot-citrus varieties.”

Fish and more

Once the trio mastered the art of gefilte fish, which they sold via local stores (you can buy a loaf of Gefilteria Gefilte as part of a “Jewish Food Essentials” gift package available at The Challah Connection), they branched out to pickles, horseradish relish, borscht, black-and-white cookies (a New York staple) and other foods. They’ve developed a thriving catering business and like doing pop-up dinners.

Now Yoskowitz and Alpern have collected 100 Ashkenazi recipes into a beautiful cookbook, The Gefilte Manifesto, named after their founding statement of purpose.

Interspersed with the recipes are short essays by Yoskowitz an Alpern explaining the background of the foods, giving some insight into the food based on their personal experience, or giving some family background about the recipe.

The book deftly combines the old and the new, relying on the Ashkenazi culinary traditions of seasonality and practicality even when introducing a recipe that would probably have shocked the authors’ shtetl forebears (roasted beet and dark chocolate ice cream, anyone?).

There’s a nice section about pickling, and along with the old-time “Classic Sour Dills”  there’s a trendy “Cardamom Pickled Grapes.” Right after the recipes for classic gefilte fish, there’s one for “Smoked Whitefish Gefilte Terrine.” There are instructions for pickling corned beef and pastrami at home. There’s a section on European Jewish breads, with a recipe for bagels and one for challah that includes illustrations showing how to braid the Sabbath loaves.

A recipe for the Jewish New Year

This week, we in the Jewish community are getting ready for Rosh Hashanah, which starts at sundown on Sunday, October 2.

It’s traditional to eat sweet foods as an indication of our wish for a sweet year to come, and to eat fall harvest foods, such as apples.

Here is a lovely recipe from The Gefilte Manifesto which they call “Ruth’s Apple Strudel.” Yoskowitz says it’s identical to the recipe he wrote down as a boy while trailing his grandmother, Ruth, in the kitchen.

To me it isn’t really a strudel, which I think of as very thin pastry spread with a filling, rolled up and baked, then cut into slices. This is more of a thin-crust, rectangular pie, but I know it’s a traditional Jewish dessert because my neighborhood bakery sells something similar. And it looks like a great recipe for the holiday!


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