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Cooking: Colonial Cuisine
Recreating the cusine of the first Jews in America. Recipes include 1600s Barley Salad, Strawberry Spinach Salad, and Corn Pudding.
by Tina Wasserman

If you think it's hard to find good produce in the markets today, how do you think you would have fared had you been one of the twenty-three Jewish refugees who arrived in New Amsterdam from Brazil in 1654?

Imagine your group landing, penniless, in the harbor of New Amsterdam (pirates looted your ship enroute). Governor Peter Stuyvesant confiscates your few remaining possessions to pay the ship's captain, who claims that he is owed money for his services. Stuyvesant also writes to the Dutch West India Company requesting permission to expel you and the others because, he claims, your indigence would be a burden to the community. Influential Jews in Holland intercede with the Dutch West India Company, petitioning that your group be accorded sanctuary and the same full rights Jews enjoy in Holland. You prevail and Stuyvesant is forced to grant you permission to stay, but he imposes unlawful taxes and restrictions on your ability to work. A fellow refugee, Asser Levy, files and wins a lawsuit against Stuyvesant for refusing to issue Jews trade permits. In 1661 he receives his butcher's license and becomes the first Jewish tradesman in the colonies.

On the culinary front, as well, you demonstrate persistence and inventiveness, melding ingredients brought from Europe, the Caribbean, and Africa (such as apples, wheat, barley, oats, and rye) with indigenous foods (corn, squash, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins) introduced to you by Native Americans. You mill flour from wheat and rye to produce pies and pastries filled with wild strawberries, blackberries, and cranberries, sweetening these treats with native honey and maple sugar. You import cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves from Holland, as well as sugar, molasses, cocoa, vanilla, and rum from Brazil and the Caribbean. African slaves introduce you to beans, peppers, and coconut milk.

Like most colonists, you produce all the foods you eat. As there is no refrigeration, fish and meats are preserved by smoking or salting. Your community introduces a third technique--pickling--a process which enables you to prepare foods in advance of the Sabbath and, in the new land, prevents starvation whenever fresh food is scarce.

• • •

We can celebrate the 350th anniversary of the arrival of those first twenty-three Jewish immigrants to America's shores by enjoying recipes with ingredients familiar to our colonial forebears. And let us all eat in good health!


1600s Barley Salad

The gardening technique practiced in Plymouth, Massachusetts inspired this salad. Small squares of land were cultivated next to the colonists' houses to provide food for their families. Native Americans taught the pilgrims how to commingle different crops in one square bed to enhance the growth of all. To fertilize corn, a fish head was buried in the center of a 3-foot-square bed of soil. Pole beans were then planted around the corn for added protection and nutrients; and cucumbers or squash were planted around the pole beans' perimeter, their rough leaves serving as a natural barrier to animals and playful children. Tomatoes were native to the Americas, but not often used in salads until much later; I have included them for the modern palate.

4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
24 red grape tomatoes cut in half horizontally
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 teaspoon minced (or 1/4 teaspoon dried) fresh rosemary |
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of cloves
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups frozen yellow corn, defrosted
1 cup frozen cut green beans, defrosted
3 scallions, finely sliced
1/4 cup roasted red pepper, jarred or fresh, diced
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup barley
4 cups water
Additional salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Combine the first 11 ingredients in a large glass serving bowl. Let marinate for at least 1/2 hour at room temperature.

2. Defrost the corn and the green beans. Discard any accumulated liquid. Have all of your remaining ingredients ready while you cook the barley.

3. Bring 4 cups of water to a rolling boil. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and then the barley. Stir to combine, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 40 minutes, until the barley is tender but not mushy.

4. When the barley is done, quickly drain it (without rinsing) and pour it over the tomato mixture. Toss with the remaining ingredients. Add more salt and pepper as needed. Serves 8.

Tina's Tidbits

  • The easiest way to peel a clove of garlic is to lightly smash it under the flat side of a large knife. The peel will then easily pull away.
  • When working with hot peppers, place your hand in a plastic bag while slicing to prevent the pepper oils from burning your skin.


Strawberry Spinach Salad

Strawberries grew wild in North America. Native Americans brought baskets of these berries to the new settlers. Although in the 1600s berries were used mostly in pies, pastries, and jams, the berry in this salad is a wonderful addition.

1 10-ounce package of fresh baby spinach
1 pint strawberries
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 large leaf of fresh basil, finely minced
1 teaspoon grated onion
2 Tablespoons balsamic or cider vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pure maple syrup, preferably Medium Amber Grade
1 teaspoon lime juice, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
1 cup croutons or honeyed sesame snack twigs, optional

1. Rinse the spinach leaves, pat dry, and remove any large stems. Place in a large serving bowl and refrigerate, covered.

2. Rinse the strawberries and remove the stems. Slice the berries in halves or quarters. Place in a small bowl and set aside in the refrigerator.

3. Combine the next 8 ingredients (through the salt and pepper) in a screw-top jar. Shake to combine. Refrigerate until you're ready to use.

4. When you're ready to serve, combine the strawberries with the spinach and toasted almonds.

5. Heat the salad dressing in the microwave for approximately 30 seconds, until it's hot.

6. Pour half of the dressing over the salad and toss. Serve immediately, with extra dressing and/or sprinkled with croutons or honeyed sesame sticks if desired. Serves 6-8.

Tina's Tidbits

  • When cooking with spinach, opt for pre-washed baby spinach; there's no prep and no waste.
  • Strawberries should never be submerged in water to wash; they'll become too soft. Rinse them instead, then shake or pat off any excess water with a paper towel.
  • Warm salad dressing will slightly wilt the spinach and bring out the sweetness of the leaf.


Corn Pudding

In colonial times, pudding was the most common and beloved dessert. Puddings were cooked in a large kettle suspended over a fire or buried in its hot ashes. Later, brick openings were built into the side of the fireplace wall to create an oven effect for baking.

While corn pudding isn't a dessert by modern standards, it's good enough to eat any time, and it doesn't get easier or better than this recipe!

12 ounces vacuum-packed canned corn
3 Tablespoons flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk or non-dairy creamer
1 Tablespoon vanilla
2 eggs, beaten
4 Tablespoons melted butter or parve margarine

1. Combine all the ingredients in the order listed, making sure to stir the mixture while adding the hot melted butter.

2. Pour into a 1 1/2-quart casserole and bake at 425°F for 35 minutes or until golden. Serves 4 if you're lucky! (This recipe can be doubled or quadrupled, but figure on a little more baking time--up to one hour.)

Tina's Tidbits:

  • To prevent small bits of food (like raisins, nuts, or corn) from settling on the bottom of a baked muffin, cake, or pudding, always dust the bits with a tablespoon of the recipe's flour.
  • Always incorporate eggs into a batter before adding hot, melted butter to the mix. This will prevent the eggs from cooking when coming in contact with the hot liquid (your eggs cannot bind the mixture together if they are already scrambled).

Tina D. Wasserman, a member of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas, has been teaching at her own cooking school for more than thirty years and writes a kosher cooking newsletter on the Internet.


Tina will be delighted to assist you. E-mail


Union for Reform Judaism.