How to be Jewish – in 1846 London

I found something fascinating today: The Jewish Manual: Practical Information In Jewish And Modern Cookery With a Collection of Valuable Recipes & Hints Relating to the Toilette, written by Judith Cohen Montefiore, and published in 1846. Judith was the wife of Sir Moses Montefiore – interestingly, she was Ashkenazic and he was Sephardic, so I guess there weren’t issues with that. Her sister married the head of the Rothschild family in England and the two men became business partners, so we are talking about extremely rich people here – but, at least in the case of the Montefiores, also ones who were dedicated to helping their people.

This is hilarious and surprising – it is the most Anglicized possible Jewish book imaginable. For instance, she says about veloute and Bechamel sauces, “These preparations are so frequently mentioned in modern cookery, that we shall give the receipts for them, although they are not appropriate for the Jewish kitchen.” She does use suet or butter instead of lard in all recipes, and doesn’t mix milk and meat in the same dish; I think the main point of the book is how to suit English acquired tastes while still remaining kosher. There’s no discussion of separate plates or of not serving milk and meat at the same time, though; maybe everyone already knew the rules.

There are a lot of recipes I wouldn’t expect, and twists on familiar ones – surprisingly, her recipe for “matso soup” calls for beef broth, not chicken. I’m also surprised by how many recipes here aren’t either English or French – maybe Montefiore’s husband’s Italian background or her father’s Dutch roots account for them. There is “Almondegos soup” – but with egg balls instead of meatballs. Several recipes call for “that most fine and savoury of sausages, chorissa”, which I think must be chorizo. There’s a recipe for Impanada, which areprobably related to empanadas – but made of fish, alternated with layers of potatoes and dumplings, and there’s one for “Dutch Fricandelles” – but again made with fish instead of meat like modern frikandels.

There are just a few traditional Ashkenazic Jewish recipes, or things that sound like they might be: “Kimmel meat” (beef slow-cooked with vinegar and caraway seeds – or maybe this is Dutch?) and “Kugel and Commean”, which is made of peas, beans, beef, marrow bones and a calf’s foot, not much like any kugel I’ve ever had. Among the pastry dishes, there are Waflers (which are indeed waffles, because it says “wafler irons are required and can be obtained at any good ironmongers of the Hebrew persuasion”) as well as “Lamplich” and “Staffin”, neither of which I’ve ever heard. There are also “Haman’s fritters”, fried in boiling oil, which are definitely not hamantaschen. For Passover, there are several recipes for puddings and fritters using biscuit powder – I have absolutely no idea why this would be kosher for Passover. “Matso cakes” also call for biscuit powder, so maybe it’s matzo meal. “Matso diet bread” calls for a pound of sugar and eight eggs, so apparently the word “diet” also meant something different to Mrs Montefiore! (OK, well, I did already know that the word wasn’t used about weight loss at the time.)

There are also hints on the toilette, with various recipes for improving hair and skin, I will not be trying any of these, not having easy access to “spermacetti”, mutton fat or spirits of wine. On the other hand, a mixture of spirits of wine, honey, rosemary, rose water and soft water is probably not the worst thing to wash your hair with (honey is a gentle cleanser). I will say that her advice on fashion is still fairly reasonable: “Fashion should never be followed too closely, still less should a singularity of style be affected; the prevailing mode should be modified and adapted to suit individual peculiarity. The different effect of colours and the various forms of dress should be duly considered by every lady, as a refined taste in dress indicates a correct judgment.” (Nothing wrong with “a singularity of style” for those who want it, but I suspect that blending in with society was a major aim of this book, and it’s good advice for anyone who wants to do that.) This bit, though, is different from the current advice that v-necks are flattering: “Dresses made half high are extremely unbecoming; they should either be cut close up to the throat or low. It is, however, in bad taste to wear them very low on the shoulders and bosom: in youth, it gives evidence of the absence of that modesty which is one of its greatest attractions; and in maturer years it is the indication of a depraved coquetry, which checks the admiration it invites.”

Perhaps “depraved coquetry” can be my new watchword.

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