Food facts: A conversation with Gil Marks

Food facts: A conversation with Gil Marks

When Rabbi Gil Marks was compiling his new “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food,” the biggest challenge he faced was paring down the vast amounts of foodie knowledge floating in his kop.

When The Big Lipowsky was compiling his FYI this week on Marks’ book, his biggest challenge was paring down the vast amounts of foodie knowledge from Marks’ kop.

Hence this entry.

“I was meeting with my editor at Wiley; we had previously done a successful collaboration on ‘Olive Trees and Honey,'” Marks said. “We were figuring out what to do next. She said, ‘You’re a walking encyclopedia of food, why don’t you write one?'”

The book is an accumulation of everything Marks had learned and studied since the days of his Kosher Gourmet magazine in 1986. The encyclopedia has 655 entries and 300 recipes.

And yes, Marks has tried most of these dishes. The book includes, he said, mostly foodstuffs that he enjoys, although dishes like p’tcha – jellied calves feet – made it into the book because of its historical significance in Eastern European Jewish diets, even though Marks does not particularly care for the dish.

“All together [the book] tells the story of the Jewish people for the past 2,500 years,” Marks said. “To me, it’s putting puzzles together. There are some dishes you can trace for thousands of years.”

One of those foods is kashk, which is known in the Talmud as kutach – typically a porridge from cracked grains fermented with whey, then dried. Babylonian Jews loved it, Israeli Jews hated it, and eventually it made its way to Eastern Europe where it took on the name kasha, which is the general Slavic term for any cooked cereal. When Eastern European Jews came to America, they brought their version of kasha with them.

“Since Jews popularized it in America, kasha took on the narrower Yiddish term rather than the broader Slavic term,” he said.

So far, Marks said, the book has been well received. Readers are looking to it as a resource for the Jewish and non-Jewish kitchen alike, he said.

“It’s a practical cookbook,” he said. “If you ever need to look something up, it’s there. It’s history; it’s culture.”

Marks will sign copies of his book on Saturday, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m. at the home of his cousins at 599 Maitland Ave. in Teaneck. The signing is open to the public.

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