Shortly after June Hersh C’76 and her family decided to sell their multi-generational lighting business in 2004, she and her sister got to talking about what would come next.
“My sister turned to me and said, ‘We did well, now let’s do good,’” Hersh recalls. “That really resonated with me.
She thought about her two passions, writing and cooking; it was obvious how those might come together. As for the “do good” part, she had long admired and supported the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City and chose that as her cause.
In keeping with the museum’s focus on Jewish history, Hersh set out to gather recipes and stories from Holocaust survivors and turn them into a cookbook. “Before I knew it,” she says, “I was speaking to well over 80 people and telling well over 100 stories, each one singular, each one remarkable, each one life-changing.” Published last May, Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival includes more than 170 recipes that Hersh tracked down, recorded and tested in her own kitchen.
“At the end of working on this book, my husband turned to me and said, ‘For a year, we’ve been eating like 85-year-old Polish peasants,’” she says. “I laughed, but he was right. There wasn’t a single night’s dinner in that year that didn’t revolve around an old Eastern-European or Russian recipe, but at the end of the day, it was really good food. It’s hearty and it’s comforting and it’s organic and local because they didn’t know how to cook any other way. It was actually a very nutritious way to eat, and it was incredibly varied because Jewish food doesn’t have a singular country of origin to point to.”
In the 14 months since its publication, the book has sold more than 10,000 copies and made almost $150,000 in profits. Hersh has donated every dollar of those profits directly to the Museum of Jewish Heritage. “I’ve earned nothing from the book,” she adds, “and that’s fine with me.”
Not one to rest between projects, Hersh cooked up a second book while waiting for Recipes to be published. The Kosher Carnivore: The Ultimate Meat and Poultry Cookbook came out on Sept. 15 of last year, just four months after Recipes had hit stores. “It’s a real primer on using Kosher cuts of meat: how to buy them, how to talk to your butcher, what knives to use,” Hersh says. In a further attempt to “eat well; do good,” she is donating a portion of the proceeds from that book to the national nonprofit Mazon.
For those who are getting hungry with all this talk of food, Hersh sent along two summer-friendly recipes from Recipes Remembered to share on the Arts Blog. Let us know if you give them a try!
Hela Fisk’s Plum Cake
Hela’s recipe is the quintessential batter version of Polish plum cake. Serve it hot for a luscious dessert or bake it the night before and enjoy the subtle sweet goodness of the plums with the acidic orange juice for a delicious breakfast. Make this from May to October when plums are at their peak.
Yields: 10-12 servings
Start to Finish: Under 1 ½ hours
For the filling:
2 pounds dark, sweet plums, pit removed, cut into thin slices
¼ cup sugar (increase the sugar to ½ cup if the plums are tart or add a touch of honey)
mixed with 2 teaspoons cinnamon
For the batter:
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
½ cup orange juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar mixed with ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9 x 3–inch spring form or tube pan
To make the filling, toss the plums with the sugar and cinnamon.
Prepare the batter in a large bowl. Beat the eggs, sugar, oil, orange juice and vanilla, several minutes, on medium speed, until light and fluffy. In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. On low speed, slowly add it to the egg mixture. Increase the speed to medium and beat for several minutes, until all the ingredients are well combined and the batter is smooth.
Pour a third of the batter (about 1 to 1 ¼ cups) into the prepared pan and top with a third of the plums, Repeat 2 more times, ending with a layer of plums on top. Sprinkle with the sugar & cinnamon topping. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 ¼ hours or until a bamboo skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool completely before removing from pan. If the cake does not release easily, loosen it by running a knife around the edges.
To use a rectangular 13x9x2-inch baking dish, make only 2 layers and reduce baking time to 45 to 60 minutes
Luna Cohen’s Tourlo (Greek Ratatouille)
This is the perfect dish to make in the summer, fresh in the height of the season when the vegetables are abundant. Soujouk, authentic Mediterranean beef sausage, revs up the colorful and flavorful combination of peppers, zucchini and eggplant. The dried, salted beef is spiced with garlic, pepper, cumin and a Turkish seven-spice mixture. Middle Eastern stores feature this variety, but it might be difficult to find a kosher version. If you cannot, substitute chicken, turkey or veal sausage, and then add a pinch of cumin or red pepper flakes to enliven the dish.
Yields: 4 to 6 Servings
Start to Finish: Under 2 hours
1 eggplant, cut into chunks, salted and drained
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about ¾ cup)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 zucchini, cut into bite-size chunks
2 tomatoes, cut into bite-size chunks
1 green pepper, cored, seeded and cut into chunks
1 red pepper, cored, seeded and cut into chunks
Kosher salt & Pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ pound beef, turkey, chicken or veal sausage, chunked
Place the chunks of eggplant in a colander and sprinkle liberally with kosher salt. Place a plate on top of the eggplant to help weigh it down. Let the eggplant drain for 30 minutes. Rinse, dry and reserve. While the eggplant drains, prepare the remaining vegetables. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, cook and stir the onion and garlic, over medium heat, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, green and red pepper. Cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes. While the vegetables cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spoon the vegetables into a baking dish and season to taste with salt, pepper and oregano. Stir in the sausage and bake at 350 degrees, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
Eggplants are 95 percent water and if not handled properly can soak up your sauce or cause it to be watery. Whenever possible, drain the eggplant as described above before adding it to the rest of your ingredients. If roasting the eggplant, this step is not necessary.