Dispatches of a Cuisine Nearly Lost to the Nazis | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Dispatches of a Cuisine Nearly Lost to the Nazis

Dispatches of a Cuisine Nearly Lost to the Nazis

A new cookbook explores German-Jewish food

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When we think about the impact of the Holocaust, little attention is given to the loss of the unique cuisine that came along with the decimation of Germany's Jewish population.

A new cookbook aims to preserve the memory of foods that the Jews of Germany made for weekday, Shabbat, and other festive meals for hundreds of years prior to the Holocaust.

"This story of a vanishing culture would not exist without the Holocaust as a palpable demarcation line," notes the introduction. "The culture and the food existed in their entirety and in their own habitat before that fateful time from the early 1930s until 1945."

Written by mother-daughter team Gabrielle and Sonya Gropman, The German-Jewish Cookbook is the result of six years of collaboration. The Gropmans gathered recipes from friends and family, from Jewish cookbooks published in Germany years ago, and the handwritten cookbooks of Gabrielle's grandmother.

Gabrielle and Sonya began their cookbook project with a blog and funded their work with a Kickstarter fund, raising over eight thousand dollars. 

This is the first German-Jewish cookbook to be published in over 100 years. The recipes the Gropmans present are all kosher, although in reality, some German Jews were not kosher, so the Gropmans indicate how they would actually prepare them.

Gabrielle was born in Germany and emigrated to America in 1939 as a baby. Her family moved to Washington Heights, which, at the time, was where many German Jews settled in America. Gabrielle's Washington Heights had several kosher butchers and bakeries and her fellow German-Jewish inhabitants retained aspects of their former lives such as "Spaziergang," or long Sunday family strolls. 

She attended Brandeis University where she met her husband whose family was from Eastern Europe, and she began to notice the differences in their family's cuisine traditions. 

Fast forward 60 years or so, Gabrielle and Sonya decide to embark on their German-Jewish food project because they felt that the German Jews who came to America became assimilated and that their culinary traditions were on the verge of disappearing forever. Indeed, when we in America think of Asheknazi cuisine, we typically think of Eastern European Jewish food, rather than the food of the German Jews.

"German-Jewish food is essentially German food with the necessary adaptations made to adhere to kosher law, and to celebrate specific holidays," remarked Sonya in an interview with The Jewish Week Food & Wine.

Sonya elaborated, "a few examples of the different versions of foods my Eastern European grandmother (aka Nana) made versus those made by my German Jewish grandmother (Oma) are: Nana’s matzo balls were served in chicken soup, while Oma’s in a meat (beef) broth; the prayers were made over challah at Nana’s Friday night table, while Berches (German-Jewish ceremonial bread – braided like challah, but a very different type of dough) was at Oma’s; Nana made brisket, Oma made veal roast. Oma always served Grimsele, fried matzo fritters served with either wine sauce or raspberry syrup, for a Passover dessert." 

Some of the recipes will be familiar to American Jews, like the Chicken Fricassee, while others, like the Krokerle, the Spiced Chocolate Hazelnut Chanukah cookies, are more obscure. 

Krokerle are likely an adaptation of the spiced cookies which are eaten in Germany at Christmastime. They are a family recipe from Herta Bloch who, along with her husband Alfred, owned a mini-chain of kosher butcher shops called Bloch & Falk which had locations serving German-Jewish enclaves of New York City. 

Bloch's mother had made the cookies in Germany and Herta retained the recipe in her archive of family recipes. In the book, Gabrielle recounts how she and Sonya visited Bloch to bake the cookies together only to find out that Bloch never actually made them. The recipe skipped and generation and it is Bloch's daughter Marion who now bakes Krokerle. 

Anecdotes like this pepper the book, bringing the various dishes to life. We learn, for instance, that Chicken Frickassee was probably invented as a clever way to re-purpose the boiled chicken from a chicken soup, and that it was the only chicken dish that Gabrielle's mother made.

Even though there has been a resurgence of Jewish life in Germany thanks to immigration from the former Soviet Union and Israel, the foods these Jews eat are not the traditional German-Jewish cuisine from this book nor are these foods known by non-Jewish Germans today. The German-Jewish Cookbook contains not only the recipes of the vanished German-Jewish community but the cultural history and historical context behind them.

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