Title: Olive Trees and Honey; A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the WorldWednesday, December 1st, 2004
Author: Gil Marks
Publisher: Wiley Publishing Co., Hoboken, NJ
When we dine out in fine restaurants we experience not just the food, but also the service and the atmosphere. Jewish home cooking, when creatively conceived and elegantly prepared can take us to places and times that we can only imagine. It is thus that Mr. Marks once again takes us on one his fascinating world trips of discovery in Jewish cuisine.
This time, the author of The World of Jewish Cooking – Desserts – and Entertaining books has outdone himself. Marks offers up history, anthropology, laws of kashruth, ethics, philosophy, health and dietary requirements, practical shopping, and culinary ‘secrets’ of food preparation for both the experienced home (or even institutional) chef as well as the rank beginner.
These are not merely ‘textbook’ classics – Gil Marks is known to personally and actually prepare real dishes from each and every menu selection he writes about, and even discusses the etymology of the names of the recipes, and regional variations on dishes including specific ingredient variants.
Were we aware that it was during the Middle Ages that Jewish communities became the primary growers of citrus fruit – as a result of our requirement for etrogim for Succot. Consequently, citrus fruit found its way into Sephardic and Mediterranean cooking early on. This, and many other cultural ‘tidbits’ about olives, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables abound in Olive Trees and Honey.
Unlike most of the non-Jewish households in the communities we lived amongst, and probably as a result of our kashruth laws, Jews rarely consumed protein from animal flesh, which was ordinarily restricted to special occasions. Historically, in the time of the Bet HaMikdash, animals were primarily shechted in The Temple only during the annual pilgrimage holidays. Except for Levites and Cohanim, most Israelites rarely consumed animal products except milk and dairy products and bird eggs unless there was a wedding or other special celebration. Consequently, our historic diet consisted of grains like barley and oats cooked into gruel or baked into breads, and ‘greens,’ both of which supplied a quite adequate diet.
Vegetarian cooking does require much more planning and preparation than simply ‘tossing’ steaks and hamburgers onto the grill. Until just the recent century most agriculturalists valued their farm animals for their continuing output – sheep for their wool; fowl for their feathers; ducks and geese for their down; bovines for their milk and labor (walking around a millstone to help grind the grain); etc. Domesticated animals were just too valuable to just kill and eat them.
Marks points out that residents of the territories surrounding the Mediterranean, as most of we Jews were until less than two centuries ago, eat at least a full pound of vegetables daily, usually bathed in an olive oil dressing – more than twice as much as Americans. This diet is low in cholesterol, high in fiber, full of natural vitamins, and replete with delicious flavors. There is advice and recommendations for spicing, purchasing and easy-to-follow recipe preparation, including alternatives for possibly unavailable ingredients.
‘The Master’ takes us on a world tour – from Alsace, France to Azerbaijan to Ethiopia to Germany to Greece to Hungary to India to Italy to North Africa to Persia (modern Iran) to the Polish shtetl to Turkey to Yemen and other exotic places. Even if you don’t do all the cooking it makes entertaining reading. Take our advice – Enjoy!