Sampling the Lost Cuisine Found in ‘The German Jewish Cookbook’

Posted on: September 21st, 2017 at 5:16 am by

Photo: Lori Greenberg

In our current food-obsessed culture – especially in places like New York City – it seems that we are global food citizens. We have easy access to an endless variety of restaurants and specialty food stores, which enable us to explore foods from all over the world. And we can easily watch a multitude of food shows and videos online, celebrating different cultures and recreating recipes, even from other eras.

However, one type of cuisine that is almost completely extinct is German Jewish cooking. During WWII, Jewish history in Germany was erased. In the 1930s, the Jews who survived and fled to the United States didn’t want to draw attention to themselves as German Jewish refugees. They cooked German Jewish food only at home and the recipes were soon lost.

This forgotten culinary culture is not what we think of when Jewish cuisine comes to mind. Blintzes, perogi, latkes, and even “New York Jewish food” like pastrami and corned beef sandwiches are more accurately eastern European.

Photo: Lori Greenberg

To remedy this, mother and daughter team Gabrielle Rossmer Gropman and Sonya Gropman have written The German Jewish Cookbook: Recipes and History of a Cuisine.

Gabrielle Rossmer Gropman was born in Germany in the late 1930s. She was one of ten Jewish babies born in her hometown of Bamberg in that decade, as Jews in the immediate run-up to Nazi Germany were reluctant to have children. As a baby, though, she and her parents fled to NYC’s Washington Heights, which was home to the largest surviving community of German Jews in the world.

When Gaby met her husband Don at Brandeis University, she noticed that the food she grew up with was different from the Eastern European Jewish food his family had cooked. Sonya had the good fortune of growing up with foods from the Jewish cultures of both parents.

Gaby and Sonya, who are both visual artists, had always been deeply involved in cooking and wanted to combine their personal memories with history, creating a story from a multigenerational perspective.

Sonya Gropman and Gaby Rossmer Gropman. Photo: Lori Greenberg.

They were also inspired by Gaby’s father’s stories of his childhood in Bamberg, a medieval Bavarian city, which in 1930, had a small population of 1,000 Jews. Many of these stories had to do with the food: fresh cherries, cakes, challah, dumplings, and black radishes.

Getting the thoughts and experiences of two generations of women – along with the people they interviewed in Germany – was no small task, but six years later they have a finished book of recipes and stories.

The Gropmans work on the book also involved tracking down very old recipes, where they discovered that some of the details, such as the quantities or the cooking times, had not been written down. These dishes needed much trial, error and taste testing, until they knew they had gotten it right.

The scene at Bonnie Slotnick’s. Photo: Lori Greenberg.

We recently went to a party and talk at Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks on East 2nd Street, celebrating the release of the book. We sampled delicious desserts, such as krokerle (spiced chocolate hazelnut cookies), berches (water bread), and orange cake with almonds.

Speaking about their inspiration, Sonya said, “My grandfather had an emotional attachment [to German Jewish cuisine] because he lost his parents to the Nazis. He’s one of the main influences for the book.”

On their travels to Germany, they learned that although it isn’t advertised as Jewish, there were still remnants of German Jewish food. Sonya reflected on this, saying “They sell a sausage in Frankfurt which is beef, and that is Jewish. It’s not prepared in kosher environments, but it was a vestige.”

Gaby described initially feeling reluctant to give up her art for a while in order to focus on the cookbook. She said, “When I finally realized that this massive project was going to become part of my life, it tied back to what I thought about for years: the food and the culture is not known. We [as German Jews] are very much a minority in a minority.”

Recent Stories

New Condos Teased at 15-Story ‘One Essex Crossing’

Each month brings more significant updates for Essex Crossing. On the heels of the International Center of Photography launching its new flagship, the billion-dollar Lower East Side development this week rolled out more info about the CetraRuddy-designed condo tower at 202 Broome Street (aka Site 3). Dubbed One Essex Crossing, the fifteen-story newcomer features 83 […]

Broome Street Gets an Exclusive Nightclub by Omar Hernandez

Where Happy Ending once tormented this Broome Street block, and Better Days was anything but, something uber-upscale is now replacement. Perhaps even too upscale for its own good. By now you’ve probably seen the well-placed hype pieces about the newest nightclub at 302 Broome Street, led by nightlife impresario Omar Hernandez. He converted the space […]

Ten Injured, Including Firefighters, in Massive Mulberry Street Blaze Last Night [Updated]

The three-alarm blaze that engulfed 70 Mulberry Street last night spread quickly, destroying the upper levels of the historic Public School 23. The fire started shortly after 8:45pm on the fourth floor. Firefighters from Ladder 20 and police from the 5th Precinct were the first responders. More than two hundred fire personnel ultimately arrived to […]

3-Alarm Fire Engulfs PS 23 Building on Mulberry Street

Shortly before 9pm this evening, a three-alarm fire was sparked at 70 Mulberry Street (at Bayard). Within minutes, the historic building – erected in the nineteen century as Public School 23 – was in flames. More than one hundred firefighters were called to the scene to battle the blaze which is apparently confined to the […]

The Year of the Rat Scurries In

It’s the Year of the Rat! This week marks the 21st year of New York City’s Lunar New Year celebration, and no doubt the organizers are scurrying around in preparation for a veritable smorgasbord of festivities. As in years past, the festivities will kick off with the explosive Firecracker Ceremony Saturday morning at 11:00am (January 25) […]