Mahlzeit! German-Jewish Cuisine in LBI Collections

A plate from, Morgenstern, Lina. Illustriertes Universal-Kochbuch für Gesunde und Kranke. Berlin. 1907.

A plate from, Morgenstern, Lina. Illustriertes Universal-Kochbuch für Gesunde und Kranke. Berlin. 1907.

Food is one of the most important aspects of culture. Many a journey, and a good bit of global trade, was launched in search of new flavors. For the displaced, uprooted, or simply homesick, familiar foods provide a comfort and connection to home that is second perhaps only to language.

Major segments of LBI’s archival and library collections consist of those materials that Jewish refugees managed to spirit out of Europe in the 1930s. Many of them managed to find room in their overstuffed bags and trunks for cherished cookbooks—from published classics to handwritten recipe books to binders full of clippings and index cards.

As they prepared to digitize a number of important German-Jewish published cookbooks from the late 19th and early 20th century, some LBI librarians and archivists recently decided to try their hand at cooking some of the antiquarian delicacies contained within. As the following journal of their efforts shows, the results were varied, but they often led to interesting conclusions or questions about the culture from which these recipes arose.

In Memory’s Kitchen: A Legacy from the Women of Terezin

The Theresienstadt Ghetto was created at the end of 1941 as a collection point for Jews of the former Czechoslovakia, and in the following months for Jews from Germany and Austria as well. A place with a complicated history of deception, starvation, slave labor, and periods of “beautification” for propaganda purposes, the Theresienstadt Ghetto’s primary purpose was as a way-station for further deportations to the death camps in Eastern Europe, most notably Treblinka and Auschwitz. It was in this hell that Mina Pachter, who before the war had been an art historian, made this cookbook.

Kochbuch der Hélènemama (Arad, Romania, 1924)

Hedi Levenback escaped Austria in 1939 via a Kindertransport to England at the age of 14. Her own mother had died of natural causes when she was only six, and she was raised by an aunt. Her aunt managed to flee Austria as well, immigrating to Shanghai and, after the war, joining her niece in New York. We presume that this cookbook belonged to her aunt, carried with her from Vienna to China and to her new life in the United States. She seems to have been truly devoted to the domestic arts.

Heim des Jüdischen Frauenbundes Neu-Isenburg. Feiertags-Küchenkalender für die jüdische Hausfrau. c. 1910.

As described in this Holiday Cookbook for Jewish Women, the Home of the Jewish Women’s League in Neu-Isenburg was a safe haven for pregnant women and mothers, children (legitimate and illegitimate), and displaced young women; it offered these women education and training in a traditional Jewish environment and family-like setting.

Elias, Julie. Das Neue Kochbuch. 1925

Julie Elias was a fashion journalist living in Berlin with her art historian husband, Julias Elias. She published reviews and commentary on current fashions of the Weimar period in both mainstream and Jewish publications. In 1925 she branched out to create Das Neue Kochbuch or “The New Cookbook.” This book was aimed at Jewish housewives.

Wolf, Rebekka (Heinemann). Kochbuch für Israelitische Frauen. 1851

Although Wolf’s cookbook offered housewives the opportunity to surprise guests and family with “einem fremdartigen Gerichte” (an exotic dish), what was really special about this “Cookbook for Jewish Women” may have been its emphasis on Jewish customs. Over at least 10 editions, this juggernaut cookbook was expanded into a compendium of housekeeping tips, notes on Jewish practice in the home, and even first aid remedies.

Gumprich, Bertha. Vollständiges Praktisches Kochbuch für die jüdische Küche. 1896.

Gumprich’s “Complete, Practical Cookbook” was a resource for inexperienced housewives trying to prepare affordable meals that were both tasty and kosher. As Gumprich writes in her introduction, many cookbooks in the 19th century did not provide guidelines for kosher cooking methods and ingredients; or they weren’t practical for “die einfach bürgerliche Küche” (the simple middle class kitchen).

Kauders, Marie. Vollständiges israelitisches Kochbuch […]. 1896.

What sets Kauders’ cookbooks apart from many others was her emphasis on cooking as an artform. In the introduction to her Vollständiges Kochbuch she compares cooks to sculptors who create monuments out of raw materials.

Morgenstern, Lina. Illustriertes Universal-Kochbuch für Gesunde und Kranke. Berlin. 1907.

Lina Morgenstern developed her “illustrated, universal cookbook for healthy and sick persons” using the latest nutritional theories of renowned doctors, thus offering a fascinating glimpse into early 20th-century concepts of food as medicine.

Kahn, Lena. Die Frau auf richtige Fährte : erzieherische Winke und praktische Ratschläge. 1901.

The author of “The Wife on the Right Track”, Lena Kahn, was born in Sulzburg (Baden-Württemburg, Germany) in the 19th century. She offers not only instructions for the efficient management of a Jewish kitchen, but child-rearing advice as well.

The Sisterhood of Congregation Habonim, New York. “Recipes Remembered : German-Jewish Specialties”

Published by New York City’s Congregation Habonim in 1976, Recipes Remembered offers a look at how a community with roots in the German-Jewish refugee experience was evolving and adapting to life in America after about three decades.

Cookies for the Holidays: Chocolade-Backwerk

“Kleines Chocolade-Backwerk,” perhaps translated best as “Small Chocolate Baked Goods.” These are a basic chocolate and almond cookie. My friends, can I tell you….this cookie was amazing!”

Cookies for the Holidays: Spitzbuben

“In our archives, we have a picture of a Jewish family celebrating Christmas. I asked one of our volunteers who grew up in Berlin in the 1920s and 1930s about Christmas cookies. “Oh yes,” she enthusiastically responded. “Each year at Christmas we would have trays of cookies baked. We especially liked the cookies with jam in the middle, but there were many kinds.” And thus, a sticky plan was hatched…

Potato Strudel (Potato Knishes) of the Bukovina

This time, we tried making a potato strudel, also called potato knishes. The recipe is from a four-volume online publication called The Bukovina Cookbook. Following the instructions, we ended up with so much potato filling that almost half was leftover. And this proved to be the best part of the recipe—we took the filling, patted it out, and made latkes! The latkes were pretty good. So if anything else, we got a basic latke recipe.

Passover Veal Roast and Compote

A popular Passover dish recommended for Passover in cookbooks from the 1900s was Kalbsbraten (veal roast), often served with compote. Compote is a mixture of fruit cooked with sugar and spices; many Jewish cookbook authors frequently recommended compotes as accompaniments to meat, fillings for desserts, or served alone with a sauce. Henny van Cleef’s cookbook, Die israelitische Küche, had recipes for compotes made of plums, apples, pineapples, cherries, melons, huckleberries, and even roots vegetables. I chose her apple compote, since most other fruits were not yet in season.

Billige echt jüdische Bobe (Cheap Real Jewish Bobe) – A Coffee Cake

My friend was most intrigued with the recipe of the Cheap Real Jewish Bobe. It seemed very basic, the kind of thing you would have with coffee mid-morning in a pleasant kitchen or café or garden in Central Europe before the war: nothing too fancy, like some rich pastry or confectionery for a special event among the exceedingly wealthy. This is a simple coffee cake where you invite a few friends over whom you don’t have to impress. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good–after all; aren’t the simplest things often the tastiest?

Erdbeer-Gateau from Hélènemama (Arad, Romania, 1924)

The Erdbeer-Gateau or Strawberry Cake is a delicious and easy recipe. Don’t let any personal fears of working with meringue dissuade you! It’s perfect for summer. This is not a recipe from a “Jewish cookbook,” rather a German cookbook that was published by a German press in Romania. The owner of the cookbook was a Jewish woman from Vienna, and that is how it found its way into our collections.

A German Breakfast from 1896

Flipped apple egg pancake

From “Kochbuch fuer israelitische Frauen” by Rebekka Wolf geb. Heinemann, we created the delicious Apfel-Eierkuchen, or Apple Egg pancakes, and the hearty Arme Ritter, known in English as Poor Knights. Both were easy and provided a tasty glimpse back into a German brunch from 1896.


Finished product!

Kaiserschmarrn, a type of sweet scrambled pancake traditionally topped with raisins and rum sauce, has uncertain origins full of folklore. While attributed to Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph I, no one is quite sure exactly how or why it was created. Regardless, pancakes were clearly as popular in the 19th century as they are today. The finished product was delicious and definitely something I would make again.

Ruth Heimann’s “Angel Pie”

This pie from a cookbook published by the largely German-Jewish Congregation Habonim in New York in 1976, is made of beaten egg whites and mixed with crushed Ritz crackers and pecans. It was contributed by the late Ruth Heimann, a long-time LBI volunteer.

Trout with Mushroom Sauce

This whole fish simmered with lemons, parsley and other spices comes from Bertha Gumprich’s aptly titled “Complete Practical Cookbook for the Jewish Kitchen,” a compendium of culinary knowledge first published in 1896.