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Object of the Month: October 2013 0 Comment(s)

Accession No: 2013.38
Donor: Lenore & Sol Gnatt
Description: Two community cookbooks, 1950s.
  - A Pinch of This and a Dash of That (Montgomery County Jewish Community Center Sisterhood, c. 1955)
  - Eating Pleasure by Sisterhood Measure (Shaare Tefila, Washington D.C., 1958)

These cookbooks illustrate food trends of the 1950s when America's table experienced many changes in the wake of World War II. As the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. was not only uniquely impacted by the wartime influx of government and military personnel, but was also influenced by soldiers returning home.

Palates of the Pacific Theatre

During the war, American GIs overseas were exposed to new ingredients and dishes. They came back to America craving these flavors. Suddenly, chow mein noodles and sweet and sour variations of popular dishes appeared in restaurants and on the dining room table. A recipe for an Asian-inspired Sweet and Sour Tomato Soup (with or without meatballs) is in the 1958 cookbook entitled Eating Pleasure by Sisterhood Measure. Exotic ingredients such as pineapple gave traditional Ashkenazi dishes a Pacific flair.

Sweet and Sour
Tomato Soup

with or without meatballs
by Selma Swartz
Eating Pleasure by Sisterhood Measure
Beef Oriental
calls for canned pineapple
by Bertha Liebersohn
A Pinch of This and a Dash of That
Sweet and Sour Tongue
by Lenny Gnatt
(donor of the cookbooks)
A Pinch of This and a Dash of That

Fresh from the box

Another culinary impact of World War II was the demand for quick and easily prepared meals using mixes. During the war, many American women found themselves working away from the home in support of the war effort.

Illustration in Eating Pleasure by Sisterhood Measure

Simultaneously, factories had perfected the production of these goods, and they became more widely available. Quick meals from mixes meant that working women could still prepare dinner for their families. One popular mix was Jello, which inspired a full chapter on molds and salads in A Pinch of This and a Dash of That—a far cry from the side dishes served today.

While many American women ended their wartime employments after the 1945, their culinary habits had been forever changed. Resourceful home cooks looking for ways to save time used mixes in their traditionally made-from-scratch dishes. Even the knish, a popular Ashkenazi dumpling, did not escape the trend. A recipe for knishes in A Pinch of This and a Dash of That uses store-bought pie crust mix to make the dough.

Above all else, these cookbooks demonstrate Washington's ever-evolving Jewish foodways. What will the recipes we share today say about our community decades from now?

The Jewish Historical Society recently acquired these two 1950s cookbooks as part of a larger Washington-area cookbook collection. Stay tuned for future recipes and stories from this cookbook collection!

This year, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, our Objects of the Month feature DC's rich Jewish food history. For stories about this history and the latest on the local Jewish food scene – recipes, restaurants, chefs, events, and volunteer opportunities – visit jewishfoodexperience.com.

Object of the Month: September 2013 0 Comment(s)

Accession No.: 1995.16
Donor: Ruth and Vivian Weinstein
Description: Two grabbers, made of wood and metal, each stand 50" tall.

In the 1960s, Ruth and Vivian Weinstein took over Harry's Market, their parents' cornerstore in Mount Rainer, Maryland. They were among the few women who owned and ran a "mom and pop" store. Traditionally, women helped their husbands and fathers wait on customers and keep the shop's books. Rarely were they sole proprietors or shop managers.

Vivian and Ruth's parents, Leah and Harry Weinstein, had opened Harry's Market in 1924. They were among the hundreds of Jewish immigrants who opened "mom and pop" grocery stores in all four quadrants of Washington, D.C., as well as the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

The grocery business was popular with immigrants because it required little start-up capital and minimal knowledge of English. In fact, many grocers learned English by reading can labels in their stores.

Receipt books from Harry's Meat Market, early 1930s. Each book tracks the account of one customer or household.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Ruth and Vivian Weinstein.

These Jewish merchants lived above or behind the shop and ran out to assist customers who rang the bell. Sidney Hais remembered, "In those days, you waited on each individual customer. There was no such thing as self-service… It was exhausting." Grabbers such as the ones pictured here were used to reach cans and other items from high shelves.

The Weinsteins were part of District Grocery Stores (DGS), which provided cooperative buying power and a means to fight discrimination from non-Jewish wholesalers. Explained by Jenna Weissman Joselit in The Forward, "At once indispensable and taken for granted, the grocery store owner sought out the company of other grocers. Banding together, they formed trade associations that not only expanded their purchasing power, but also provided opportunities for socializing and for exchanging ideas."

Weinstein sisters, Vivian and Ruth, in front of their store, mid-1990s. 

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Ruth and Vivian Weinstein.

The era of mom-and-pop grocery stores started declining with the end of Prohibition in 1933, the movement of population from the city to the suburbs in the late 1940s and 1950s and the introduction of self-service supermarkets. Harry's Meat Market was one of the last Jewish-owned mom-and-pop grocery stores in the Washington area. The Weinsteins' sisters ran the store until 1996.

To learn more about mom-and-pop grocery stores in Washington, D.C., visit our online exhibition, Half a Day on Sunday!

This year, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, our Objects of the Month feature DC's rich Jewish food history. For stories about this history and the latest on the local Jewish food scene – recipes, restaurants, chefs, events, and volunteer opportunities – visit jewishfoodexperience.com.

Object of the Month: August 2013 0 Comment(s)

Object No.: 2005.5.5
Donor: Seymour Rich
Description: Rich’s Famous Cherry Blintzes box, c.1950s. Includes color illustration of blintzes, instructions for use, and list of ingredients.

Background: In a city not known as a delicatessen kingdom, Seymour Rich reigned as the “Blintz King” for decades. His mouthwatering blintzes fed hungry State Department officials, ambassadors, as well as everyday Washington workers looking for authentic deli fare.

Twenty-one-year-old Rich opened his first deli, Seymour's, at 6th and H Streets, NW, in 1939. By 1945, he had moved to 19th and E Streets, NW, to run Rich’s Restaurant.  For more than 28 years, Rich’s menu included blintzes, chopped liver, and overstuffed corned beef sandwiches. The restaurant served a mix of federal government employees from nearby federal agencies as well as employees of the neighboring American Red Cross headquarters. Rich’s son, Ronald, recalls, “…you may not believe me when I tell you, but people were waiting in line to the curb to get in at lunch. [Dad] would not seat two people at a table of four. They’d have to share with another group of one or two in order to fit everyone in at lunch.”

According to Ronald Rich, "the secret to the blintzes was hard work. I don’t know what made them great -- love and affection, I guess. We could not make them fast enough."

JHSGW Collection.

Soon the popular blintzes appeared in the frozen food aisle at Giant Food. Rich’s famous blintzes now appeared on plates across the greater Washington area.

In the 1970s, Rich opened an upscale restaurant, The Golden Table, in the Columbia Plaza complex near the State Department and the Kennedy Center. For 16 years, the restaurant was popular with State Department officials and ambassadors.

Rich’s restaurants were truly a family affair. Son Ronald who started by making sandwiches later became his father’s business partner; his wife, Florence, served as a hostess; and daughter, Jacqueline, a painter and sculptor, created restaurant decor. After selling The Golden Table, the Richs opened carryout delis throughout the city, including Rich’s Pickle Barrel, Rich’s Alley, Rich’s More Than A Deli, and Rich’s Table in Chevy Chase.

Do you have material documenting a local Jewish-owned business that you’d like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society’s collection?  Please contact us at info@jhsgw.org or (202) 789-0900.

This year, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, our Objects of the Month feature DC's rich Jewish food history. For stories about this history and the latest on the local Jewish food scene – recipes, restaurants, chefs, events, and volunteer opportunities – visit jewishfoodexperience.com.

Object of the Month: July 2013 0 Comment(s)

Accession No.: 2012.36
Donor: Sheldon S. Cohen
Description: Videotaped oral history of the Honorable Sheldon S. Cohen featuring stories of growing up in Jewish Washington, his career in the federal government, and his leadership in the local Jewish community. Recorded in 2011.

Background: For many Jewish immigrants, the "mom and pop" business was vehicle for upward economic and social mobility. The dream of Jewish immigrants was to see their children become doctors, lawyers, teachers, and businessmen.

Sheldon S. Cohen certainly fulfilled this dream. His father, Herman, a Lithuanian immigrant, bought a business the year Cohen was born. Cohen grew up helping his father in the family business, Potomac Butter and Egg Co., which sold dairy products and eggs to grocery stores and small restaurants. Here are his recollections of working with his father:

[Dad's] warehouse was directly behind our house on Morse Street. It was an old stable. My mother kept the books. She had a little office in the basement of our house. I used to help her. My dad's business was just across the alley from our backyard, in this old hay warehouse. There were two or three other warehouses. And, in fact, the Sunshine Bakery was down the street in another old warehouse building behind another homes on that street.
[Dad] would have the eggs delivered from the farms or from wholesalers down in Shenandoah Valley, who would gather and deliver them to him. He would process them, clean them up…I used to grade them for size. I could pick up an egg and tell you whether it was a small, medium, or large and, if you weighed it, you'd find out I was right 99% of time. Cracked eggs went to the bakers.
To tell if an egg was good, you would candle the egg… If you hold the egg up to a light close by, you can see the yolk. You can see whether the yolk is formed properly, or broken, or if there's blood or albumin in the egg. [You need to do this to every egg.] I got so that as a teenager I could do almost as fast as the professionals would do it.
I was the cleanup man or I was an egg candler, when I had to be… [This was] a regular part of my existence... I would help with the cheese or I would help with the smaller things that didn't take up a lot of time and weren't too big to carry around.

Cohen (left) with President Johnson in the Oval Office, 1968.
 

Courtesy of Sheldon S. Cohen.

Eleven years after graduating first in his class at GW Law School, Cohen became chief counsel for the Internal Revenue Service. A year later, at age 37, he was nominated by President Johnson for the position of IRS Commissioner – making him the youngest to hold this post.

In the week after the nomination, Cohen's childhood work with his father at Potomac Butter and Egg appeared twice in Washington Post storiesshowing everyone's love of a good "American Dream" story.

This year, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, our Objects of the Month feature DC's rich Jewish food history. For stories about this history and the latest on the local Jewish food scene – recipes, restaurants, chefs, events, and volunteer opportunities – visit jewishfoodexperience.com.

Object of the Month: June 2013 0 Comment(s)

Object No: 2012.30.1
Donor: Froma Sandler
Description: World War II ration book for Jacob Sandler, age 35, 5221 Chevy Chase Parkway, Washington, D.C., early 1940s.

Ration stamps in Lena Chidakel’s ration book.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Edith and Charles Pascal

During World War II, Washington’s Jewish community supported American troops both at home and abroad. Wartime food shortages required Washingtonians to save and reuse everything. To limit consumption of products like butter, coffee, liquor, and sugar, the U.S. Office of Price Administration distributed ration books to individuals and families. Households exchanged specific ration stamps for limited amounts of a given food item at grocery stores. Rationing at home enabled more food to be diverted to the war effort. Hardships at home were a low price to pay if they led to victory in Europe and the well-being of American soldiers.

As American factories shifted their attention to manufacturing goods to support the war effort, production of liquor, like other luxuries, slowed. "There were always shortages," recalled Washington liquorman Milton Kronheim in an oral history, "[It] became difficult to get the popular brands we were selling."

Fred Kolker (center) ran a poultry business at 1263 4th Street, NE. Shown here with cantor and shochet (ritual butcher) Moshe Yoelson.

Courtesy of Brenda and Paul Pascal.

Local businesses also supported troops overseas with food from home. Fred Kolker's wholesale poultry business at Union Terminal Market sold to the U.S. Army during the war. In his oral history, Kolker remembered fondly, “My chicken went to our soldiers who were located all over the world…Boys from Washington, D.C. wrote me letters thanking me for the good poultry they received.”

Washington's Jewish community also welcomed soldiers and war workers who flocked to the city to work in the war effort. When severe housing shortages forced workers to share scarce rooms in boarding houses and private homes, the Jewish Community Center provided housing references to thousands of newly arrived "government girls" through a Room Registry. Roselyn Dresbold Silverman came to Washington in 1941 to work for the Navy Department. She lived at Dissin's Guest House, a boarding house in Dupont Circle that catered to young Jewish women. Each month, Roselyn paid $35 for her room, two kosher-style meals a day, and maid service.

Ninth Annual Passover Seder by the Army and Navy Committee of the Jewish Welfare Board and the Jewish War Veterans of the United States. Willard Hotel, April 19, 1943. 

JHSGW Collections.

The Jewish War Veterans' Washington Post No. 58 and the Jewish Welfare Board sponsored High Holiday services and Passover seders for military personnel stationed far from their families. The Jewish Community Center at 16th & Q Streets, NW offered a full program of activities including daytime jitterbug contests for nighttime shift workers. Its policy was: "Your uniform is your admission to all activities and facilities."

Washington's Jewish community was very much a part of the war effort. As Henry Gichner said when he accepted an award for exceptional efficiency and production on behalf of Gichner Iron Works, "Let's keep right on going until we get the V-Flag for Victory."