Episode 12: Just A Dash of Orange Blossom Water with cookbook author Sara Gardner
Sara Gardner is the Associate Director of Young Adult Programs at Hebrew College. Before joining the college’s Adult Learning team, Sara conducted research on the culinary heritage and cultural identity of Sephardic Jews in Madrid as a Fulbright Scholar. Sara is also the creator and head blogger of Boka Dulse, a food blog dedicated to Jewish food history, and regularly contributes to The Nosher, a Jewish food publication sponsored by MyJewishLearning.com.
An avid cook and food historian, Sara also teaches cooking classes – some of her past teaching engagements include with the Reform Jewish Community of Madrid and The Gefilteria. She is also the editor of the recently-published cookbook, The Rosh Hashanah Seder Cookbook: Stories and Recipes from the Reform Jewish Community of Madrid, currently available on Amazon. In 2016, Sara graduated with a BA in International Literary & Visual Studies and Spanish (with a minor in Hebrew) from Tufts University.
I asked Sara what the make-up of the Madrid Jewish community looks like – whether any of the families trace their lineage back to 1492 pre-expulsion Spanish Jewish communities. She said that there are indeed some people that trace their family history to the classical Jewish community. But not only is it the historic community members but there is also a strong attraction to come to Spain from Jews from all over the world – Jews that had no initial connection to Spain beforehand.
It’s a really diverse community. We have people from all over the world. Panama, Hungary, Russia, America, Israel, Venezuela, like everywhere. And the main stay of the community is every Friday night we get together to do a kabbalat shabbat service and then there would be a potluck dinner, that everybody would bring something and we would eat together.
In getting to know this community so well Sara and a handful of the other community members decided that putting together a cookbook of the local recipes would be a good way of maintaining the connection even long after she finished her work in Madrid.
My involvement with the Reform Jewish community of Madrid was a main part of my Fulbright experience – a main part of my living in Spain. And so when I got back, I missed them a lot and I was talking to Yael one day and had been thinking like, how do I stay connected to this community?
We also discussed some of the challenges that arise when publishing a cookbook. One of the issues was dealing with writing and editing a cookbook across the Atlantic and dealing with all of the tech and time issues that come up as a result of this international effort.
We really got it down to the deadline and, honestly the few days leading up to people actually receiving their cookbook this Rosh HaShanah was me mailing out copies… I spent like four hours in a local UPS store with about 128 copies of the book, like packaging them, sending them to different addresses, trying to make sure that they got out on time to even get there the day before Rosh HaShanah – so people can still make recipes.
Another one of the difficulties was in the recipe collection portion of the editing process. While it the vision of the cookbook was clear to Sara and her team it was not necessarily so to the local residents that were sending in their recipes:
What you find when you live in another country, when you’re immersed in another culture, is that although you may think the thing you’re asking for is very straightforward, if there’s no sort of cultural precedent for it – you have to figure out a different way of asking it to get the same result. But the question might look very different. So we had to figure out our way of expressing that question of: we want to share your recipes, not, you know, a recipe that [you found and] includes this ingredient, [instead we are in search of] a recipe that you make in your home with your family… that is part of your unique culinary repertoire.
Lasltly, we also talked about the camera that Sara used to do the food photography for the cookbook, and about what makes Sephardic food unique and different from Israeli food. We also talked about the bad wrap that Ashkenazi food gets but how it is also on the ascent in the Jewish food world.
For some great books and resources recommended by Sara, be sure to check out:
“The Gefilte Manifesto“ by Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern
“Rhapsody in Schmaltz: Yiddish Food and Why We Can’t Stop Eating It” by Michael Wex
“Islam in Spanish Literature – From the Middle Ages to the Present” by Luce Lopez-Baralt
And, of course, Sara and the Reform Jewish Community of Madrid’s very own “The Rosh Hashanah Seder Cookbook”
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