Philadelphia, the city of almonds, pomegranates, olive oil, chick peas, lentils, dates, grapes, and fava beans? Thanks to the Jews who first settled the North American colonies, Philadelphia was blessed with the introduction of these Mediterranean foods. It is fun to recreate colonial recipes today in order to experience the flavors and aromas of those times and connect with an often overlooked period of the Philadelphia Jewish experience. [Read more…]
Philadelphia, the city of almonds, pomegranates, olive oil, chick peas, lentils, dates, grapes, and fava beans? Thanks to the Jews who first settled the North American colonies, Philadelphia was blessed with the introduction of these Mediterranean foods. It is fun to recreate colonial recipes today in order to experience the flavors and aromas of those times and connect with an often overlooked period of the Philadelphia Jewish experience.
More after the jump.
The first Jews arrived in this area before the land was deeded to William Penn in 1682. These were Portuguese Jews who had fled the Spanish Inquisition. The first place they settled was Recife, Brazil, while it was a Dutch colony. When the Portuguese conquered Brazil from the Dutch, bringing the Inquisition with them, the Jews moved to North America. First they went to Dutch New Amsterdam (New York). Subsequently Jews migrated from New Amsterdam and settled in Philadelphia to trade furs with the Native Americans. When King George deeded the land to William Penn, the latter embarked on his “holy experiment,” creating a colony where anyone who lived peacefully was welcome. The Jews stayed.
Colonial American food was a combination of English, French, and West Indian food. Local ingredients were incorporated into the diet. Benjamin Franklin encouraged people to eat corn, turkey, and other Native American foods in order to cease their dependence on British exports. Confectionery was very well developed in Philadelphia. It had the best ice cream in America!
One of the most accessible and popular dishes of the time was pepper pot soup from the Caribbean. This was a one-pot meal made with inexpensive meat, seasonal vegetables, and hot peppers. George Washington served it to his troops after crossing the Delaware River to attack Trenton in 1776. For those who wish to try this at home, Mrs. Esther Levy gives a recipe for pepper pot soup in her Jewish Cookery Book, the first Jewish cookbook published in the United States, in Philadelphia in 1871. Below is an adaptation for the modern kitchen.
Visiting Historic Philadelphia is fun and interesting. Recreating the meals of the colonists is a hands-on way to connect with the past. As they say in Ladino, buen provecho–with good enjoyment!
Pepper Pot Soup
- 3 quarts water
- 2 onions diced
- 2 green peppers diced
- 4 potatoes peeled and diced
- 3 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 dried hot pepper or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 quart beef stock
- 1 1/2 pounds beef
- 1 1/2 pounds lamb
- 1/2 cup rice
- Parsley, thyme, bay leaf
Place all the ingredients in a pot and stew over a low flame for about two hours until very tender.
Sally Lunn Bread
A favorite yeast bread that arrived in Philadelphia from England was Sally Lunn bread. It is still served at the City Tavern, where Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams congregated. It was traditionally served with clotted cream.
- 1 cup milk
- 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 large eggs
- 4 cups flour
- Dissolve the yeast in warmed milk. Let stand for 5 minutes.
- Mix butter, sugar, salt, eggs, flour, and milk/yeast mixture.
- Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
- Beat down and let rise again for 45 minutes.
- Spoon batter into a lightly greased and floured 9-inch pan.
- Bake at 350*F for 35 to 40 minutes.
The earliest Jewish food in Philadelphia was Sephardic. The Jews brought olive oil and almonds from the Mediterranean to Spain and Portugal. They introduced these ingredients to the cuisine of the New World. In Philadelphia, local fish was fried in olive oil, not lard. This became known as “Jew fish,” and was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson. Almonds were baked into a pudding. The Jewish Sabbath stew, Chamin, made with beef, beans, and onions was also introduced. To replicate a Colonial Sephardic Shabbat meal, one should cook Chamin.
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 large onions, chopped
- 4 to 6 garlic cloves
- 2 cans (15 ounces each) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 2 beef bones with marrow
- 3 pounds brisket or chuck roast, cut into 4 pieces
- 3 pounds small potatoes
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- Pinch of saffron threads, crumbled
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
- Freshly ground pepper
- 4 to 6 large eggs
- Preheat oven to 225 degrees F
- In a large pot, heat the oil and sauté the onions and garlic until soft and translucent. Add the chickpeas, bones, meat, potatoes, honey, paprika, cumin, allspice, cinnamon, turmeric, saffron, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Add enough water to cover, place the unshelled eggs in the center, and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer for 1 hour. Skim off the foam occasionally.
- Cover the pot tightly, place in the oven, and cook overnight, or cook on low on the stove for 5 to 6 hours, or until meat is tender and done.
- In the morning, after cooking all night, check the water level. If there is too much water, turn the oven up to 250°F or 300°F, cover, and continue cooking. [If cooking over Shabbat, traditionally observant Jews would refrain from changing the heat level, for doing so would run counter to Sabbath laws against manipulating flame and cooking.] If there is no water, add another cup, cover, and continue cooking.
- To serve, place the chickpeas and cooking liquid in one bowl, and the eggs, potatoes, and meat in separate bowls.
From the New York Times, “Food, Passover Hand-Me-Downs,” by Joan Nathan
One of the most authentic Portuguese Jewish foods is almond pudding. It is the perfect dessert to serve at the Shabbat dinner.
- 4 large eggs, separated
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- Oil for the pan
- matza meal for the pan
- 1 pint strawberries or 1 cup strawberry puree
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Beat the egg yolks until foamy. Add the sugar, almonds, and almond extract.
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff.
- Fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture.
- Pour into an 8-inch oven safe dish, which has been oiled and dusted with matza meal.
- Bake for 30 minutes.
- Allow to cool slightly.
- Top with strawberries or strawberry puree and serve.
Ronit Treatman was born in Israel and grew up in Ethiopia and Venezuela. She is fluent in five languages, and volunteered for the IDF where she served in the Liaison Unit to Foreign Forces. She currently lives in the Germantown section of Philadelphia with her husband and three children.
— by Ronit Treatman
Please enjoy this clip I filmed about how chamin (Portuguese cholent) came to Philadelphia. It was filmed at Stenton Mansion, one of the best-preserved colonial homes in Philadelphia. I would like to extend my special thanks to Marlene Samoun for permitting me to use her soulful rendition of the ladino folk song Morenika in this clip.
Jewish contact with Spain may go as far back as the Kingdom of Solomon. It is thought that Southern Spain was the country of Tarshish. Tarshish was the furthest place west that people could sail to from Ancient Israel in Biblical times. There was a continuous Jewish presence in Spain until March 31, 1492.
Recipes and more after the jump.
This was when the Alhambra Decree was issued, ordering the expulsion of the Jews from the Kingdom of Spain. The majority of these exiles moved to Portugal, but they were expelled from Portugal in 1498. As a result, the Spanish Jewish community was dispersed. A large number of these Jews navigated the 8.9 miles across the Straits of Gibraltar and resettled in the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya). A much smaller number ventured to America.
They brought a very ancient dish with them. Its oldest name is chamin, which comes from the Hebrew word “cham” which means “hot.” Chamin is a dish that evolved so that Jews could comply with the rule of not kindling a flame on the Sabbath. In the Mishnah it says “tomnim et ha’chamim.” This oral tradition instructed Jewish people to “bury the hot.” In the countries of the Maghreb, the Arabic word for “buried” or “dafina” was adopted for this dish. No matter where they resettled, these Spanish and Portuguese exiles continued to cook the same special festive Sabbath dish. The Jews who settled in Eastern Europe continued this tradition under a different name. Their special Sabbath dish is called cholent. This name is believed to derive from the Hebrew word “she’lan” which means “rested overnight.” Several famous European dishes derive from chamin such as the French cassoulet, and the Spanish cocido madrileño.
As the days grow colder, chamin is the perfect comfort food to prepare for Shabbat. I have a very special recipe to share with you. My daughter, who is spending a trimester in Israel, enjoyed home hospitality with the Ben Moshe family. Mrs. Yasmin Ben Moshe welcomed her Shabbat guests with her special Tunisian chamin. She has generously agreed to share her recipe with us. This recipe has been passed down orally in the Ben Moshe family for generations. Enjoy!
Mrs. Yasmin Ben Moshe’s Tunisian Chamin
- 2 1/2 cups wheat berries
- 2 pounds of cubed lamb
- 6 potatoes
- 6 hard-boiled eggs, in their shells
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- Salt to taste
- Black pepper to taste
Soak the wheat berries in water for one hour. In a large pot, mix 2 tablespoons of olive oil with ¼ tablespoon of sugar. Cook over high heat until the sugar caramelizes. Add 2 1/2 cups of water, 2 teaspoons of paprika, and 2 teaspoons of cumin. Bring to a boil, then add the wheat berries, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Add the cubed lamb and cover with water. Add the eggs and potatoes. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 1/2 hour. Set aside and prepare the dumplings and sausage.
- 1 cup cubed lamb fat
- 1 cup ground bulgur wheat
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- Salt to taste
- Black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup minced parsley
- 1 egg
In a pan, heat the olive oil, and then add the lamb fat. When it is hot, add the garlic, paprika, cumin, salt, and pepper, stirring well. Stir in the cup of ground bulgur wheat. Remove from heat. Mix in the minced parsley and egg. Blend everything together until it becomes a dough. Form the dough into little round dumplings and place in the Chamin pot.
- 1 lb. ground lamb
- 1 cup uncooked rice
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1/4 cup minced parsley
- 1/4 cup minced cilantro
- 1/4 cup minced dill
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- Salt to taste
- Black pepper to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- Vegetable casing or cotton straining cloth (cheesecloth)
- Cotton twine
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Form a loaf with the mixture, and stuff it into the vegetable casing, or wrap it in the cheesecloth. Tie both ends with twine. Place in the chamin pot. Make sure that all the ingredients are covered with water.
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Cover the chamin pot tightly and place in the oven overnight. It should cook for 24 hours.
Serve the eggs and potatoes first. Spoon plenty of gravy over them. Offer salt, cumin, and cayenne pepper so each diner can spice it to taste.
Then serve the wheat berries, lamb, dumplings (kouclas), and sliced sausage (machshi).
As you experience your first taste of this chamin you will understand the wisdom of the old Ladino proverb:
Cuanto mas tienes, mas quieres.
The more you have, the more you want.