Saturday, August 1, 2009

What a Southern Baptist Catholic has learned about a kosher kitchen

The next in my list of summer reading is Miriam's Kitchen by Elizabeth Erlich. This is Elizabeth's memoir about her mother-in-law, Miriam, her mother and her grandmother in a quest to keep a kosher kitchen as part of their Jewish religion. It also explores Elizabeth's new love of cooking once her own family started to grow. I almost gave up on this book about a dozen times. While it does include several interesting recipes that she has taken the time to recall from her childhood, they are all kosher and thus involve latkes and sifting (a concept that continues to escape me. WHY is sifting so necessary? Isn't it all going to the same place anyway?) The book is slow to get started with some interjected stories of Miriam surviving Nazi Germany and tales spun about Elizabeth's childhood in Detroit. But once you hit around page 150, the stories of Nazi Germany become longer in Miriam's narrative and the recipes become fewer. But the recipes are explained - they are kosher. There is a complete lack of dairy in meat recipes or meat in dairy recipes...the fundamental principle of a kosher kitchen. Meat and dairy do not mix. That means there are separate pots, separate pans, separate cooking utensils, separate serving platters and separate plates and bowls. Even the clean-up must be kept separate. Dirty platters from a dinner of meat cannot be resting under dirty dairy dishes from breakfast. It's a huge undertaking and requires storage that most of us do not have, especially considering all of the extra appliances we have today.

So, why is a kosher kitchen that important? Why not just give up cheeseburgers and pizza with pepperoni? Because according to the Miriam's Kitchen (and assumingly also the Jewish religion), it is disrespectful to slaughter an animal and then eat that animal and at the same time drink the milk that came from that animal. If you're going to slaughter an animal, the least you can do is eat its meat separate from drinking its milk. Perhaps its just my extreme left-wing thinking, but I can kind of see where that makes sense. It's a respect thing. But it's also a commitment thing. I cannot imagine the dedication (and visits to the Corning outlet) you'd have to have to make it a feasible daily occurance - keeping a kosher kitchen. It also makes those kosher caterers all that much more impressive.

Part history lesson, part cooking lesson, part family memory, this book explores the Jewish dedication to a religion that I have never really understood. I've never really gotten how you could just write off Jesus. But that's the Southern Baptist peeking through. I may never understand that, but Nazi Germany happened to these people. And Mrs. Erlich was brave enough to put it on paper and sell it to the public.

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