One Man’s Search for the First Hebrew-Lettered Cookbook

A couple months ago, András Koerner, the foremost professional on Hungarian Jewish culinary history—finally received to see the treasure he’d chased for yrs. At the Hungarian Museum of Trade and Tourism, he beheld a 168-yr-old e book that, just a several years previously, experienced been considered to have disappeared devoid of a trace. Opened to its splotched initial web page, it was included with Hebrew print and an illustration of females doing work around a countertop, one particular of them keeping a pan in excess of an open fire.

The webpages forward contained something that no Hebrew-lettered ebook before it ever experienced: recipes. This cookbook, published in 1854 in Budapest was 40 a long time older and of a totally unique nationwide origin than the book that historians experienced previously regarded as the initially Hebrew-lettered cookbook.

“I do not want to exaggerate it, but at minimum in scholarly circles, it was a small sensation,” claims Koerner, author of this year’s Early Jewish Cookbooks.

Koerner, 81, grew up in a center-course, Jewish community of Budapest immediately after surviving the Nazi-occupied city’s ghetto. His quest to find the virtually 170-12 months-previous ebook is component of a lifetime of connecting with his roots as a result of foodstuff. In 2016, though doing analysis for his book Jewish Delicacies in Hungary, Koerner came across a reference to the 1854 cookbook in a bibliography.

Koerner, here at his home in New York, has become the leading expert on Hungarian Jewish cuisine.
Koerner, below at his dwelling in New York, has come to be the primary expert on Hungarian Jewish cuisine. Sam Lin-Sommer for Gastro Obscura

The bibliography pointed out that no duplicate of the e-book survived. But Koerner did not give up, following a path of clues to a xeroxed duplicate of the book in a library at Budapest’s Eötvös Lóránd University. Quite a few many years later, a buddy located what was then the only recognised surviving copy of the ebook in an on the internet catalog of Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, a assortment at the University of Amsterdam. But Koerner only glimpsed it from afar via electronic scans.

The ebook, titled Nayes folshtendiges kokhbukh fir die yidishe kikhe: Ayn unentberlikhes handbukh fir yidishe froyen und tokhter nebst forshrift fon flaysh kosher makhen und khale nemen, iberhoypt iber raynlikhkayt und kashrut, or “A new and full cookbook of the Jewish delicacies: An indispensable handbook for Jewish females and daughters, with directions for koshering meat and separating challah, as perfectly as for common cleanliness and kashrut,” is a surprising snapshot of a group in transition.

“It was like a microscopically insignificant scandal in the discipline,” Koerner jokes.

Koerner and other students had assumed that the book’s Hebrew letters spelled out words in Yiddish, which was greatly spoken by European Jews in the 1800s and was generally penned in Hebrew figures. But when Koerner questioned a friend to translate the guide into German, she returned with a revelation: The e book was published in German, but spelled out in Hebrew letters. By printing the ebook in Judeo-German, as Hebrew-lettered German is called, its publisher aimed it at the recently rising Hungarian Jewish middle course.

The building which housed M.E Löwy’s Son, in Budapest, circa 1900.
The constructing which housed M.E Löwy’s Son, in Budapest, circa 1900. FOTO:FORTEPAN / Schmidt Albin/CC BY-SA 3.

When Márkus Löwy, operator of the bookstore M.E Lowy’s Sohn (M.E. Löwy’s Son), posted the cookbook, Hungary was exiting a interval during which Habsburg, Hungarian, and municipal leaders participated in barring Jews from Hungarian towns, and the Habsburg ruler Maria Theresa subjected them to “tolerance taxes.” Law divided them from other Hungarians, and their traditions and Yiddish language isolated them more.

But in the mid-1800s, some Jews stepped absent from their cloistered lives—and the Yiddish language that experienced narrated them. Starting in the 1840s, the Hungarian Parliament granted Jews civil legal rights, together with the suitable to personal corporations and reside in Hungarian metropolitan areas, despite the fact that they nevertheless were being not permitted to possess property there.

“By the center of the 19th century,” Koerner suggests, “in Hungary there was a considerable [Jewish] middle course. And those people were being the men and women who procured Jewish cookbooks.” A usually extra rural, decreased-profits team of Jews had also settled in Hungary from Eastern Europe by then, but, Koerner states, “they could not have bought Jewish cookbooks, number one particular, since they did not have funds for it…[Number two,] they would not have understood Superior German.”

At the same time, the Haskalah, also known as the Jewish Enlightenment, prompted a wave of reformist Jews to integrate into Hungarian society although retaining their religious traditions. “They commenced to imitate non-Jewish tradition,” adopting the costume, education and learning, and delicacies of their Christian counterparts, Koerner suggests.

Appropriately, Löwy’s 1854 cookbook is stuffed not with markedly Jewish recipes, but somewhat with kosher variations of extravagant, Christian-Hungarian dishes, this kind of as “Hungarian Goulash Meat,” “Root Vegetables in the Hungarian Way,” and “Soup Produced of New Cherries.” Koerner notes that the “Hungarian-Design and style Apple Cake,” which involves rolling out 25 loaves of dough and forming them into a layer cake, is exactly the type of elaborate Hungarian dish that a center-class Jewish lady in 1854 may have admired.

The cookbook's Hebrew letters spell out words in German, hinting at Hungarian Jews' assimilation.
The cookbook’s Hebrew letters spell out words and phrases in German, hinting at Hungarian Jews’ assimilation. Courtesy of András Koerner

Integrating into Hungary’s center course intended talking its dominant language and, finally, abandoning Yiddish. But talking German was one particular detail reading it was a further. “Even as late as 1870, only 75 p.c of Jewish gentlemen and 58 p.c of Jewish girls could study and create in non-Hebrew figures in Budapest, the town with just one of the greatest levels of literacy amid Hungarian Jewry,” Koerner writes in Early Jewish Cookbooks. In the course of the 1700s and 1800s, publishers in Germany, Austria, and Hungary tackled this discrepancy by printing textbooks in Judeo-German, transliterating German words and phrases with letters that Jews acknowledged from reading Hebrew and Yiddish publications.

It is most likely that Löwy released his 1854 cookbook with this in thoughts, internet marketing it to women who preferred to discuss German but could not but go through it. He even selected a Hebrew font known as vaybertaytsh, which was involved with women’s Yiddish devotional guides, to attraction to probable woman clients, Koerner thinks.

A close-up shot of the book's first page.
A shut-up shot of the book’s first site. Courtesy of András Koerner

But Löwy was late to the sport. He released only 1 version of the e-book that in no way pretty caught on. Koerner thinks Löwy’s would-be buyers experienced presently embraced reading German textual content by 1854. This, Koerner thinks, is why so couple of copies of the ebook exist nowadays.

The book’s rarity makes it all the a lot more treasured. Just in advance of Early Jewish Cookbooks was published previously this 12 months, Koerner’s mate alerted him to a different actual physical copy of the cookbook that was obtainable at a non-public auction. Koerner persuaded Hungary’s National Library to order it. Right now, the e book is on display screen as section of an exhibit on Hungarian-Jewish delicacies at the Hungarian Museum of Trade and Tourism that Koerner served curate.

When Koerner was equipped to look at a actual physical copy of the book he experienced pursued for so extended, it was an emotional working experience. “It was wonderful. It was joyous,” he says. “And, truthfully, if I want to brag, I was a minimal proud of it.”

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