A 1975 cookbook published by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, Jewish Creative Cooking: 200 Years of Jewish Cooking in American -- With Over 4000 Years of Heritage includes a section called "Thanksgiving Around Our Table." It may be surprising to find such a section in a Jewish cookbook, but the introduction by Marcia Weinberg makes the connection:
Thanksgiving - A Holiday of Family and Foods
In the autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony, grateful for the year they had survived, held a festival to celebrate the harvest. These early settlers, very much influenced by the Old Testament, saw themselves as the Israelites of old establishing a "New Canaan", a Promised Land on American shores. In gratitude and thanksgiving they hearkened to Exodus 23 (14-16) to hold... "a Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in the results of your work from the field." Of course, the Fest of Ingathering referred to in Exodus is the festival of Sukkot, thereby giving an early "Jewish flavor" to our oldest American holiday. In fact, the very day of Thanksgiving -- Thursday -- also has its roots in Jewish history. Monday, Thursday and the Sabbath were the days on which the Torah was read in Jewish tradition. The pilgrims followed the practice of using these same days for religious instruction and meeting. When a day for feasting and thanksgiving was declared, these early settlers decided on Thursday, since it was one of the days which already had religious significance.
And with that, here are a few Thanksgiving recipes compiled in 1975:
Object No.: 2015.16.1 Donor: Pati Jinich Description: Three-legged, hammered pewter salsa bowl made in Taxco, Mexico, 1950s
Pati Jinich, host of the PBS cooking show, Pati’s Mexican Table, donated her grandmother’s pewter salsa bowl to our collection this summer. Although salsa is far from a traditional Jewish food, its mixture of tomatoes, peppers, onions, and spices is appropriate for the blend of cultures that characterize so many members of the Washington area’s Jewish community.
Jinich’s grandparents purchased a pair of these bowls in the Mexican town of Taxco, a center of Mexican silversmithing (Jinich still owns the second bowl). The hammered pewter bowl is covered with Mexican folk-art designs and images such as Quetzacoatl, the Aztec god. “They really admired the Mexican arts; this bowl shows the bridge of what it meant to be European silversmiths in Mexico,” Jinich commented during an oral history interview with JHSGW Executive Director Laura Apelbaum.
Jinich (pronounced HEE-nich) is the granddaughter of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe, was born and raised in Mexico, and came to Washington 15 years ago after a stint in Dallas. She now lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
“Food has always been a gigantic part of our family,” Jinich said. “My zeide had what was like a bed and breakfast in their tiny shtetl. All they ever had to eat were potatoes and herring. They were very creative with those foods.”
Jinich’s paternal grandfather left Poland as a teenager during the early 1920s and, with the United States having severely restricted immigration, he made his way to Mexico City where he started a textile business. Her paternal grandmother arrived as a young girl a few years later with her extended family.
“They didn’t have much money, but what they had they spent on a Shabbat feast on Friday nights,” Jinich said. “They made Ashkenazi food with Mexican flavors, which quite honestly improves it. Normally, Ashkenazi foods are mild. She would make gefilte fish [red snapper instead of the European pike] in a tomato sauce, which is delicious.”
Her maternal grandfather, who established a silver business in Mexico, came from Bratislava (now in Slovakia) during World War II. Her grandmother, a seamstress, left her home near Vienna for New York before moving to Mexico. The two had originally met in Europe and then reconnected in Mexico. Most of their families died during the Holocaust.
“My parents’ families were so different,” Jinich said. “You could tell their personalities by their food.
“My father grew up in a hard-working, lower, middle-class family,” Jinich explained. “They cooked Ashkenazi foods like potato latkes and gribenes [chicken-skin cracklings] along with Mexican foods like corn tortillas and guacamole. She made her own challah and delicious chocolate babka, which is a different sort when you make it with Mexican vanilla, cinnamon, and chocolate. They enriched the food they brought [from Europe] with Mexican ingredients.”
“On my mother’s side, they were very refined,” Jinich continued. “They didn’t come from Eastern European peasants. They came from big cities. They were successful [in Mexico]. My grandmother was a phenomenal cook. She made all of the Austrian cakes, the cookies, the strudels, very elaborate dumplings, and goulash. She just made [a few] Jewish dishes like matzo ball soup. It was clear with small matzo balls with parsley and nutmeg. My bubbe’s matzo ball soup, the broth wasn’t clear. It had noodles and kreplach and gigantic matzo balls. They were both delicious, but very different styles.”
The offspring of those varied backgrounds met on vacation in Acapulco and were soon married. Jinich is the youngest of their four daughters.
“My mom grew up with a tutor for this and a tutor for that,” Jinich said. “She spoke German and French in addition to Spanish and English. They sent her to finishing school. Then she met my dad and fell in love and [her parents] were like, ‘He doesn’t even know what an artichoke is! He’s never had a glass of wine. He doesn’t know much about classical music.’”
Jinich and her husband Danny, who grew up in Mexico City in a family that was more religiously observant than hers, met on a blind date. Her mother and his father had dated briefly.
After they were married, they agreed they would move to the U.S. for a couple of years. They cut their honeymoon short so that he could start a banking job in Dallas. While they lived in Texas, Jinich wrote her thesis on Mexican democratic institutions and consulted on a Mexican cooking show for the local PBS station while he traveled frequently. When her husband received a job offer in D.C., they visited Washington on Cherry Blossom weekend.
“Washington was so international -- there were so many things to do, the food was phenomenal, and the cherry blossoms were out,” recalled Jinich. “We thought maybe we would be here a year, but instead of moving back to Mexico, we ended up staying.”
Jinich enrolled in a graduate program at Georgetown while she was about to give birth to the second of her three sons. After obtaining her master’s in Latin American Studies, she went to work at a think tank.
“I had taken courses for cooking at home and a lot of friends asked me to teach them Mexican cooking, which I had done in Dallas,” Jinich said. “I loved cooking so much I decided to start write food articles and pitched them to magazines. I wanted to incorporate the politics and culture of my background -- more than just the recipes.”
Prodded by the Mexican Cultural Institute, Jinich secured the funding to underwrite a curriculum in Mexican cooking. Her classes were soon sold out and were written about in The Washington Post and The New York Times, which led to appearances on local television and then to her own PBS show.
“I’m doing what I was meant to be doing,” said Jinich, who has also taught Mexican-Jewish cooking classes at the Lubavitch Center. “I get a lot of emails from people looking for long-gone recipes of food that their grandmothers used to make. I feel like I’m helping build bridges and breaking myths about what Mexicans are and what Mexican food is.”
Earlier this week, our friends at The Forward published a list of 10 facts about Jewish Washington, D.C. called "Of Goldie Hawn, Theater J and 8 Other Things About (Jewish) Washington D.C." We’re adding our hometown voice with ten things you might not know about Washington’s Jewish history.
1. Home to the Only Congressionally-Chartered Shul
1856: Washington Hebrew—the city’s first Jewish congregation—successfully petitioned Congress (then constitutionally responsible for D.C. law) for legislation ensuring its right to purchase property.
2. The Civil War Couldn’t Keep the Jewish Community Apart
1862: Because Civil War travel restrictions prevented Washingtonian Henry Baum from traveling to his bride, Virginian Bettie Dreifus’s home in Alexandria, the marriage took place in D.C.
20th Century: From hundreds of Jewish immigrant-owned "mom and pop" liquor stores to producer-distributor-powerbroker Milton Kronheim, Jewish Washingtonians have helped quench the thirsts of Washington’s denizens for over a century.
6. First Israeli Flag-Raising on Embassy Row
1948: President Harry Truman’s recognition of Israel’s independence on May 14, 1948, spurred hundreds to stream to Embassy Row to cheer and dance as the new state’s flag was first raised.
7. Ferris Bueller Actor Bar-Mitzvahed in Maryland Suburbs
1957: Years before Ben Stein became a speechwriter for President Nixon, an actor, and game show host, his family sent this invitation to celebrate his bar mitzvah at the Montgomery County Jewish Community Center (today’s Ohr Kodesh Congregation) in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
8. The Beatles’ First U.S. Concert
1964: Washington Coliseum owner Harry Lynn hosted the "Fab Four" for their first U.S. concert on February 11, 1964, the day after the band's roaring introduction on the Ed Sullivan Show.
9. Eruv Encloses All Three Branches of the Federal Government
Today: Built in 1876, the historic Adas Israel synagogue was saved from demolition in 1969 by moving it three city blocks, where it now stands as the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum. The synagogue will move again: once to a temporary location, and finally to the corner of 3rd and F Streets, NW, where it will be the focal point for the Society’s new Jewish museum;
Object No.: 2014.32.1 Donor: Sarah Cohen Description: Artwork film for Tabard Farm Yukon Gold Potato Chips bag featuring the Tabard Inn as a farmhouse, 2014.
Connoisseurs of potato chips are likely familiar with Route 11 potato chips. Route 11 was founded in 1992, and is based in Mount Jackson, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. Yet the company has its roots in downtown D.C., and the Tabard Inn — the venerable Dupont Circle brunch spot that was among the area’s first farm-to-table restaurants.
In the late 1970s, Edward and Fritzi Cohen, the inn’s owners, started Tabard Farm Potato Chips as a side business. They sold tubs of organic chips to boutique and high-end shops like Williams-Sonoma. In the early 1980s, Tabard Farm began offering seasonal Yukon Gold potato chips. Their expertise went international in 1989 when Tabard Farm began supplying machinery and training to agricultural cooperatives in the Soviet Union.
In 1992, the Cohen’s daughter Sarah spun off the chip-making business and founded Route 11 Potato Chips. Route 11 offers a glimpse (and a taste) of this origin story with their Tabard Farm Yukon Gold Potato Chips. The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) interviewed Sarah Cohen, Route 11’s proprietor, about her family history and what makes Yukon Gold potatoes so special.
JHSGW: Tabard Farm Yukon Gold chips have their origins with the Tabard Inn, before the founding of Route 11. What’s the story?
Cohen: The prequel to Route 11 starts at the Tabard Inn. Edward and with his wife Fritzi [Cohen], my parents, bought the Tabard Inn in 1975. The purchased the hotel in part to save it from being demolished to make way for a high-rise office building. The restaurant opened a few years later, and Nora Poullion was the first Tabard Chef. She and my father shared the same interest in where food comes from, and how it’s grown. My dad was also an avid gardener, who spent much of his free time in the dirt.
Soon after the Tabard Inn’s kitchen started serving meals, my dad found a piece of property near Front Royal, Virginia, and also found a genius, bio-dynamic farmer named Susan [Peterson] to run the farm, which grew food for the Inn. This was the beginning of Tabard Farm. Tabard Farm grew vegetables for the Tabard Inn and also delivered to about 20 restaurants in D.C.
One day, a neighboring organic farmer told my dad a story about how he’d planted all these potatoes for two brothers, and that the brothers just got arrested for dealing cocaine and put in prison. He had just planted all these potatoes and didn’t know what he was going to do. My dad got a big smile and a sparkle in his eye, and knew that he wanted to do. MAKE POTATO CHIPS!
My dad was also potato-obsessed in general, and [a few years later] when the Yukon Gold potato began to appear in seed catalogs, he thought it would be great to try those as chips. And, they were INCREDIBLE!!
JHSGW: The image on the bag presents the iconic Inn near Dupont Circle as a farm house. Where did the idea for that image come from, and who created it?
Cohen: The image on the bag of the Tabard in a potato field, was the original artwork for the Yukon Gold bag done [for Tabard Farm Potato Chips] in the early 1980s. It was done by the sister of a sous chef in the Tabard Kitchen.
JHSGW: Many Washington-area Jews have a mom-and-pop grocery or some other shop as part of their family history. I often hear wonderful stories about the fun and warmth of growing up living over, and in many ways, in the store. What was it like growing up with/in the Tabard Inn?
Cohen: My two brothers and I worked at the Tabard as we grew up... me from the age of 12, and then my brothers into adulthood, and up until very recently. My parents never really related to the idea of a mom-and-pop business. They were very political and cerebral, and from the get-go hired great people, who helped grow the Tabard into the icon that it is today.
My parents definitely set the tone for the place. It was never your typical corporate, cookie-cutter hotel. Neither of them ever worked the front lines of the business. But, the Tabard is what it is because of their original vision [to offer organic, farm-to-table food] and the great staff that it attracted over the years. It was an awesome and fun business to grow up in.
JHSGW: These chips are more than just a nod to Route 11’s roots in your parents’ business. How do you characterize your contribution to your family’s culinary and entrepreneurial history? Are there certain values or a spirit that flows through it all?
Cohen: Route 11 very much reflects the values and spirit of my family’s relationship with food and hospitality. My dad loved to grow vegetables, and my mom is a great cook. Tabard has an authenticity that is hard to find these days. I would say the same for Route 11.
There are so many smoke and mirrors in the world of food, and we’re producing this product ourselves, working closely with several growers, forging relationships with our fans, and inviting people to come see how the chips are made. It’s the real deal. The true inspiration for Route 11 was to try and make a really, really good potato chip without cutting the corners on ingredients or methods that happen so often with most snack foods.
JHSGW: So, what makes Yukon Gold potatoes so special?
Cohen: The Yukon Golds are a yellow flesh potato with a buttery flavor built in. Who doesn’t love butter? When we’re cooking them, our factory smells like buttered popcorn.
JHSGW: I’m not asking you to give up any secrets, but is there a trick to making the perfect Yukon Gold chip?
Cohen: The Yukon Golds are seasonal, August-October. They can’t be stored year round and still make a GREAT potato chip. They’re best made from fresh-dug Yukons.
JHSGW: What burning question have I missed?
Cohen: Tabard Farm Yukon Gold Potato Chips were the first Yukon Gold Potato Chip ever marketed. That’s pretty cool. I don’t think many people know that.
Accession No.: 2013.40 Donor: Ohev Sholom: The National Synagogue Description: This symbol was posted prominently in businesses selling kosher food throughout the D.C. area. Below the “KOSHER” in Latin characters is a stylized Hebrew “kosher,” reminiscent of a menorah. If something is kosher, it is ritually fit for consumption by Jews according to Jewish dietary laws called kashrut. The supervision of kashrut is calledhashgacha in Hebrew.
Though packaged kosher food is ubiquitous in supermarkets today, fresh kosher meat and dairy usually fall under the supervision of a local organization composed of rabbis and food-production experts. A system for community-wide certification of kosher food – in particular meat – grew as the Jewish community grew.
For decades in the Washington, D.C. area, the preeminent rabbinical authority overseeing kashrut has been the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington. The Council oversees bakeries, butchers, caterers, hotels, restaurants, and other establishments. In the 1960s, the still-young Rabbinical Council created this symbol to be visible in establishments under its supervision. Yet, the story of kashrut in D.C. started much earlier. The evolution of the Rabbinical Council’s kosher supervision reflects the growth of the area’s Jewish community.
Washington was home to as many as six kosher restaurants during the Civil War, but only a few shochets (ritual slaughterers) attended to Washington’s Jewish community by the turn of the 20th century. Most served a particular congregation. Simon Mundheim, who arrived in Washington with his wife and daughter in 1863, oversaw kosher meat production for Washington Hebrew Congregation and later Adas Israel Congregation. In 1897, Congregation Ohev Sholom, with mostly Russian and Eastern European Jewish immigrants, subsidized its religious school by charging an extra half cent per pound of kosher meat.
In 1901, there were two shochets on Seventh Street, NW, and one in the 4½ Street, SW, neighborhood. Also, in Center Market, where the National Archives stands today, a butcher sold kosher and non-kosher meat from the same table. In 1907, in the midst of an influx of east European Jews, the Agudas Hakehilot (Combined Congregations) was founded to oversee all aspects of Orthodox life in Washington, D.C., including production of kosher meat.
Within a few years, though, the Agudas Hakehilot’s authority came to be contested by the shochets whose work it oversaw. The organization mandated from which companies butchers could buy their meat, which inflated meat prices. The Agudas Hakehilot declared any meat from outside of the area – notably cheaper meat from Baltimore – as “alien meat” and non-kosher. Additionally, insufficient supervision of shochets led to a series of financial and health department scandals in the 1920s and 1930s.
In the face of high prices for their supplies, several kosher butchers in D.C. created the Boser Kosher (Kosher Meat) Association to collectively negotiate prices with the Agudas Hakehilot. In his memoir, Forty Years in Washington, Moshe Alex describes how the possibility of the Boser Kosher shochets turning to religious authorities in Baltimore to oversee kosher meat in D.C. convinced the Agudas Hakehilot to negotiate with the Kosher Boser Association to cap meat prices and expand the number of suppliers.
The Growth of the Rabbinical Council’s Kosher Supervision
Rapid expansion of Washington’s Jewish population from the late 1920s through 1940s led to the establishment of new kosher butcheries, delicatessens, and restaurants throughout the city. One of the better known examples was Hofberg’s, a kosher delicatessen that opened in 1928 on Kennedy Street, NW, and became a popular hangout for Jewish teens.
In the early 1940s, to improve its oversight of the expanding kosher meat production sector, the Agudas Hakehilot began employing kosher butchers directly or subsidized their salaries. Usually these butchers worked in small butcher shops located near Orthodox communities in Northwest D.C. Many of these shops were located on upper Georgia Avenue, NW, as this kosher supervision poster illustrates.
The Agudas Hakehilotexpanded its purview as the Washington area’s Jewish population spread to suburban Maryland and northern Virginia in the 1950s and later. In the early-1960s, the organization changed its name to the Rabbinical Council and Combined Congregations of Greater Washington. The Rabbinical Council supervised only a few stores during this period, most of which were in D.C., according to this advertisement from 1966.
As the D.C. area’s Jewish community expanded, so too did the kosher supervision of the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington. Today, it is the largest organization overseeing kashrut in the area.
Since the 1960s, observance of kosher dietary laws has expanded in the Washington area. A 2003 demographic survey of the Washington-area Jewish community found that 12% of the area’s Jewish population kept kosher homes, a substantial increase from 20 years earlier. Kosher markets and restaurants developed throughout suburban Maryland and northern Virginia. Most kosher institutions within D.C. closed as Jewish communities grew outside of the city after the 1950s. The handful of kosher ventures that have appeared in D.C. in recent years often have struggled to find a regular clientele.
Like most Jewish communities, a variety of independent kashrutorganizations and Mashgiachs (Kosher overseers) offer kosher supervisory services. For example, in February 2015, a council of local Orthodox pulpit clergy from suburban Maryland and northwest D.C. formed the Beltway Vaad, in part to provide kosher certification to area restaurants. The organization’s website recognizes that the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington “serves as a primary kashrut organization” for the D.C. region.
Alongside the Rabbinical Council, the Beltway Vaad and similar organizations are part of an evolving story of the Jewish community and Jewish life in the Washington, D.C. region. Whenever you see a kashrut symbol, keep in mind its part in the Jewish community’s much longer history.
Further Reading: Learn more about the 1902 kosher meat boycott in New York, which set the stage for Boser Kosher Association.
This is the kind of story that you will encounter in the Society’s future museum showcasing the Washington region’s Jewish life and heritage.
Do you have a unique story about Washington’s history of kashrut? Tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.