In 2006, six Jewish women from Sydney, Australia, got together every Monday morning to talk recipes. Their goal was to write a cookbook that would raise money for charity. But they had a very specific vision for their book. They wanted, as they write in the introduction to their second book, “to find recipes with soul, recipes that might be lost, recipes that tell the story of a community: a community where it is always about the food.”
In other words, their own Jewish community.
The six—Lisa Goldberg, Merelyn Frank Chalmers, Natanya Eskin, Lauren Fink, Paula Horwitz, and Jacqui Israel—all contributed recipes, but they also put out a call to the Jewish community of Sydney, and spent their Monday mornings for the next five years testing what they got back and shaping it into a book. The result, Monday Morning Cooking Club: The Food, the Recipes, the Sisterhood, was published in 2011, and it created a sensation with its best-of-the-best recipes and its heartfelt vignettes about the ways in which food touches people’s lives. The group, by then a not-for-profit, achieved its goal of raising money for charity and then some. Their website lists some 16 organizations that have benefitted from the proceeds of the book.
Their second volume, The Feast Goes On is another beauty of a cookbook. This time, the club put out the call for recipes to Jewish cooks all over Australia and was happily besieged by hundreds of submissions, the best of which comprise this new volume. Luscious-looking photos by Alan Benson and a stunning overall design by Tania Gomes, add to the book’s appeal.
The Feast Goes On is divided into six chapters—not the usual soups, salads, sides, etc., but an unusual hierarchy that is somehow just right for a book of Jewish food: “Lunchtime,” “Everyday,” “Comfort,” “Feasting,” “Fressing,” and “Tradition” (fressing being the Yiddish for when you can’t stop eating). As in the earlier book, each recipe is preceded by a mini-biography of its contributor and a few words about the recipe and its meaning to his or her family.
What’s interesting to an American reader is that this is not a book of Jewishized or kosherized Australian recipes, but rather a compendium of foods of the worldwide Jewish Diaspora as it exists in Australia. That particular Diaspora—at least to someone like me, from the greater New York area—seems far more diverse than that of America. There are plenty of Ashkenazic recipes—bagels, stuffed cabbage, potato latkes, matzoh balls, gefilte fish, brisket—all of Eastern Europe’s greatest hits (my own personal soul-food heaven, so no disparagement intended). But there are just as many Middle Eastern and Sephardic recipes, interspersed with Asian, African, and even South American recipes. Flip through the pages, and you’ll find a global menu: Sesame Sweet from a family transplanted to Australia from Turkey; Pollo con Salsa (chicken with tomato-chili sauce) from an Argentinean woman who learned to cook from her mother and her Latvian mother-in-law; Veal Goulash from a Hungarian woman married to a South African man; Chicken with Olives and Capers from the daughter of a Polish mother and an Israeli father; Khachapuri (a savory pastry) from Georgia; Beef and Potato Pie from South Africa; Malaysian Barramundi; Moroccan Roast Cauliflower; and on and on.
Just as compelling are the stories that accompany the recipes. Short though these mini-memoirs might be, they overflow with love and nostalgia for the people and places that inspired them. The Feast Goes On bills itself as a cookbook, but it is also a book about the Diaspora—about any people who cope with great loss, who regroup and move on, who remember and keep their traditions.
The Feast Goes On is an Australian phenomenon, but it deserves a serious look from American readers interested in food, Jewish or not. It proves once again, that when we talk about the food, we’re talking about so much more.
To find out more about the Monday Morning Cooking Club, check out their website.