Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South

The introduction of Crisco, a certified kosher vegetable shortening, in 1912 solved an age-old problem for Jewish women and for African Americans who cooked for observant Jewish families in the South. Crisco was considered pareve, a neutral food, by kashrut standards and was eaten with both dairy and meat dishes. When the product was introduced, Proctor and Gamble announced, The Hebrew Race has been waiting 4,000 years for Crisco. And for observant southern Jews who lived within a culinary culture of cast-iron frying pans, foods fried in lard, and shortening-enriched desserts and breads, it felt like four thousand years. Since early colonial times in America, Jewish southerners have been tempted by delectable regional foods. Because some of these foods–including pork and shellfish–have been traditionally forbidden to Jews by religious dietary laws, southern Jews face a special predicament. In a culinary journey through the Jewish South, Arkansas native Marcie Cohen Ferris explores how southern Jews embraced, avoided, and adapted southern food and, in the process, have found themselves at home. From colonial Savannah and Charleston to Civil War-era New Orleans and Natchez, from New South Atlanta to contemporary Memphis and across the Mississippi and Arkansas Deltas, Ferris examines the expressive power of food throughout southern Jewish history. She demonstrates how southern Jews reinvented traditions as they adjusted to living in a largely Christian world where they were bound by regional rules of race, class, and gender. Featuring a trove of photographs, Matzoh Ball Gumbo also includes anecdotes, oral histories, and more than thirty recipes to try at home. Ferris’s rich tour of southern Jewish foodways shows that, at the dining table, Jewish southerners created a distinctive religious expression that reflects the evolution of southern Jewish life.

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