Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, the Baltic States, the frozen north, and particularly in Lithuania, home to great Jewish communities — now these communities are gone and only memories remain. I share these memories — my grandparents trod this ground 70 years ago.
“May I have a steak well done, please, and a fruit cocktail?” is a request that is commonly heard in a restaurant. It’s very rare to hear someone in a restaurant say, “Waiter, I’d like an order of rotten fruit, please, and do you have any steak that causes botulism?”
In order to get to Indospice, a vanilla bean export company deep in the jungles of Bondowasa Java, Indonesia, Rabbi Moshe Machuca arrives at a local airport, drives up, down, and around steep mountains, past fishing villages, thatched huts, caribou, monkeys, and exotic birds for five difficult, but colorful, hours until he reaches the plant. There he watches as workers at Indospice scald vanilla beans in vats of boiling water and set them in the sun for three to four weeks. The process, called curing, initiates a series of biochemical events within the vanilla bean that yields one of the most cherished, and expensive, flavors in the world: natural vanilla.
The origins of the Aracouna chicken have baffled scientists for the last century. The Aracouna Indians kept no written records and the source of the mutations observed in these birds is unknown. European explorers took note of these birds shortly after reaching South America. The birds are mentioned in the writings of the Portuguese explorer Magelhaes (Magellan) who documented their presence in 1519, less than thirty years after the maiden voyage of Columbus. The sky blue eggs were mentioned seven years later by Sebastian Cabot (1526). Although it is possible that the chickens were introduced by the Europeans, the immediate dispersal and distinct husbandry of these birds suggest that the bird was being raised by the natives before 1492. Similarly, radiocarbon and DNA analysis indicate that these birds are not of European origin (Story et al., 2007).
Buckwheat kasha has been one of my favorite foods since I was little. My Russian-born mother always prepared kasha (buckwheat groats) exactly the same way that her mother and grandmother did before her. She poured the kasha into her big, blackened, aluminum skillet and mixed it with a lightly beaten egg until each grain was well coated. She then toasted it over medium-low heat until the grains were dry and separate, with a wonderful, nutty aroma. She slowly added homemade hot chicken soup, creating a giant cloud of steam. Mom covered the skillet and cooked the kasha on the stovetop until the grains were swollen, tender and fluffy, 10 to 15 minutes. Then she moved the pan off the heat and stirred in a big spoonful of golden schmaltz (chicken fat), salt and pepper, covered it and let it rest for 20 minutes. Then she tasted it, hot from the pot, to make sure it was just right…and it was.
Founded in 1797, The Birkett Mills is the oldest and one of the primary millers of buckwheat in America. The company is located in Penn Yan, New York, and has been family owned for over 200 years. Originally the mill was water powered and it generated electricity for both milling of grain, but also for the village of Penn Yan until the village had its own source of electricity. The town was founded by Connecticut Yankees and Pennsylvania Dutch and thus got its name from both of these groups.
Karoun Dairies: From String Cheese to Mediterranean Specialty Yogurts, a Growing Company With a Special Product
Founded in 1992, Karoun Dairies is proud of its heritage as a family-run business established to fulfill the family’s American dream of producing dairy. The company has continued to grow from its early days of creating hand-braided string cheese for local grocery stores to its current status of producing a wide variety of Mediterranean specialty yogurts, labne and sour cream with nationwide distribution.
My grandfather was what they call in the United States a “revenooer.” He was the excise man for the Scotch whisky distilleries in Campbeltown, a little town on the west coast of Scotland. I was born there and still vacation there. A little town now, but in its heyday it had more than 30 distilleries. There was a distillery/maltings not far away from our house, and as a little boy I routinely played in the maltings with the cats who “lived” in the barley. I retained an interest in Scotch whisky, including drinking it when I was old enough, and was thrilled when Rabbi Safran asked me to audit some distilleries which wanted OU kosher certification on their single malt whiskies. One of them was only a few miles over the water from my vacation cottage!
If you would have suggested to an observant Jew that in the earliest part of the 21st century our ancient diet would become one of the hottest new food trends and that the kosher food market would be amongst the fastest growing food sectors in America and Europe, you would surely have been rewarded with a bemused look worthy of an encounter with an inhabitant of the wistful land of Chelm, inhabited by a population of sweet, confused citizens who can make neither heads nor tails of anything.
From the highest of the Scottish Highlands now come varieties of single malt whisky manufactured by Tomintoul Distillery and newly certified by OU Kosher. Tomintoul, located in the community of the same name, the highest village in the Highlands, is owned by Angus Dundee, an independent company with over 50 years’ experience in producing, blending, bottling and distributing top-quality Scotch whiskies and other spirits.