I am an avid reader of Holocaust books and must have read over one hundred of them through the years. At first it was always stories from Poland, as the Polish were hit first and hardest. Others were hard pressed to write books that wouldn't measure up to the misery suffered by the Polish Jews.
Then over the years, more survivors started writing their stories. I was amazed by the different stories and different perspectives from Jews from Holland, France, Belgium, Hungary, Romania and even American soldiers. No two stories are ever close to the same. The only common denominator is suffering and the resilience of the human spirit.
Now June Hersh comes along and writes a Holocaust book with a twist. The story of the Holocaust in a recipe book. They say the way to a person's heart is through their stomach. June finds a way to our heart with her moving collection of stories, that bring the reader tears in a way that many other books cannot. The happy childhoods, the rich cultures, the flavors of their households and of course the way they turned tragedy to triumph and lived good lives.
More than portraying the suffering of the Holocaust, June helps us touch a lost world. She helps us reconnect to the lives of our ancestors who lived so recently yet so far away in the distant past of a world long forgotten. You'll not only will be touched by the book, but also warmed deep in the heart when eating some of these delicious recipes. It's not only a remembrance to our storied past, June let's you get a real "taste" of it.
We were privileged to interview June and learned some remarkable things about here book.
Culinary Kosher: What inspired you to write Recipes Remembered?
June Hersh: Recipes Remembered grew out of my desire to do something philanthropic for the Museum of Jewish Heritage- a Living memorial to the Holocaust. I knew I wanted to work on a project that would tap into what I enjoyed most, while creating a book that would hopefully serve as a legacy for the Holocaust community who comprise much of the membership of this important museum. As an avid and passionate home cook and someone who enjoys writing and meeting people, I felt a cookbook representing this remarkable community would be the perfect vehicle.
CK: Do you have a personal connection to the Holocaust?
JH: As a Jew, I believe we all have a personal connection to the Holocaust, but within my own family, we truly had only a very distant connection. I lost one family member in the Warsaw Ghetto- he was a magnificent Cantor named Hazzan Sirota who many people have called the Jewish Caruso. On my dad's side we lost distant relatives who lived on the Isle of Rhodes when they were fast and furiously rounded up toward the end of the war and sent directly to extermination camps. The Holocaust was not a topic of conversation in my home and unfortunately not a subject that was taught at that time in our schools.
CK: At what age did you get into cooking and what prompted it?
JH: Food is a connection that resonates in every culture and through every generation. I remember cooking with my great grandmother who stayed with us during the summer and would prepare her cherished Sephardic dishes on her own personal hot plate. I recall the Ashkenazi specialties such as matzo ball soup and slow braised brisket simmering away on the stove as my mother prepared for the holidays. My dad is a wonderful cook and would make his creative dishes for us every weekend. We traveled extensively as a family and would explore the local cuisine and embrace new and different foods. These influences permeated my style of cooking and gave me the freedom to cook with confidence.
CK: What did you learn about Jewish Food?
JH: After meeting and cooking with survivors from so many different regions I began to realize that Jewish cooking is varied and diverse. I like to say that Jewish food is any food prepared by Jewish people. Whether you were a refugee in the Dominican Republic or were lucky enough to make Aliyah to Palestine, your cooking reflects the best in Jewish cuisine. After all, we have been thrown out of all the best countries in the world and our cooking style has been adapted and adopted from wherever we have found ourselves. The one constant in the food I was presented with and the recipes I had to lovingly recreate was they represent the BEST food that has nourished and nurtured Jewish families for generations.
CK: Can you tell us about future projects?
JH: After writing Recipes remembered, I quickly began work on my second book, which was published by St. Martin's Press in September, 2011- just 4 months after my first book was released. The Kosher Carnivore reflects more of my cooking style and it is truly delicious food that happens to be kosher. I find the challenge of using only kosher meat and preparing it according to the rules of Kasruth to be an eye opener. Nothing beats a kosher bird! Kosher cuts of meat can be so delicious when prepared in the correct manner. Knowing how to talk to your butcher is critical in getting the right cut for the right preparation. It was such fun developing recipes for side dishes that were pareve and how nice to have creamy mashed potatoes that are actually good for you because they contain no butter, no cream, no kidding! Because I write cookbooks with a charitable flavor, a portion of the proceeds from this book go to Mazon- a Jewish response to hunger.
Once I finished that book, I began research on my third, which will solely benefit The Bachmann-Strauss Foundation for Dystonia and Parkinson's Research. The book is called Simple, Simpler, Simplest and it is a unique and exciting concept for today's cooks. The Simple recipes are actually the most complex and rely on strong technique and exotic ingredients. The Simpler recipe will take the same central ingredient and present a version that is geared toward the typical home cook, while the Simplest recipe will offer the beginner cook an easy version that will help them find and develop their culinary muscles. The book will offer a level of cooking for every cook and show three different and delicious variations on a theme. I am hoping my publisher will move forward with this book very soon.
How can our readers learn more about your books and purchase them for themselves?
I speak every week to various groups about Recipes Remembered, with the hope they will continue the dialogue and help preserve food memory. Your readers can learn more by visiting my website at www.junehersh.com, subscribing to my blog that appears on that site, "Liking" me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/junefeisshersh and even following me on twitter @junehersh. Those are the best ways to stay in our loop. Books can be ordered through most on line booksellers such as Amazon.com (Recipes Remembered) or through the Museum of Jewish heritage at www.mjhnyc.org/recipes.
CK: One last question, what style food do you enjoy the most?
JH: The good news for my readers is that I never met a plate of food I didn't like. It is a miracle that I don't weigh 2000 pounds. But, if pressed, I love making and eating Italian food, always go back to the Jewish classics such as chopped liver and stuffed cabbage (both found in Recipes Remembered) and my last dinner on earth would be crispy fried chicken and creamy mashed potatoes (both recipes can be found in The Kosher Carnivore).
CK: Thanks June! It was a real treat to chat with you and we wish you much success on all your future projects. You can be sure we will be watching and waiting!
Stay tuned for June to start adding some recipes to her recipe box!