‘Eating Delancey’ | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

‘Eating Delancey’

‘Eating Delancey’

Schmaltzy recipes, schmaltzy memories: delicious!

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It was lunchtime when I spoke over the phone to the co-authors of “Eating Delancey: A Celebration of Jewish Food.” I had a spaghetti squash baking in the oven but flipping through the book’s beautiful photography made me hanker for cheese blintzes and brought me back to happy memories of meals in my Baba’s kitchen.

“We didn’t really want to do a Jewish cookbook,” said Aaron Rezny, the book’s photographer. “We wanted a reminiscence book that would capture some of the recipes and save them for people.” Rezny and co-author Jordan Schaps are long-time colleagues in the media world. Rezny grew up in East New York and Schaps is from Chicago. Rezny likes pastrami and Schaps enjoys chopped liver on rye.

In the beginning (pause) there was Rezny’s food photography project. “That was an homage to my memories, to my childhood, to vanishing flavors. You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to see what was happening on the Lower East Side,” he said referring to the changing flavor, so to speak, of the neighborhood from a Jewish immigrant enclave to an artsy, upscale neighborhood with nary a deli in sight.

“I was staggered by how he took this food and made it look so gorgeous,” said Schaps when he saw Rezny’s photograph collection. Ratner’s mock chopped liver never looked so pretty!  But something was missing. “I’m a shtick guy. We have to talk to celebrities and get their stories,” suggested Schaps.

The result of this “joyous collaboration,” as Schaps described it, is an entertaining collection of food memories peppered with photographs and recipes for classic Eastern European dishes such as chrain (horseradish with beets), chicken soup, pickled tongue and gribenes, or kosher pork rinds, made of crispy, fried chicken or goose skin.

Contributing writers span several generations and include big stars and everyday folk. “People’s stories came from the heart and they were moving no matter who they came from,” said Rezny. One of his adventures in assembling the book was transporting live carp to photograph in his bathtub. (He didn’t gefilte them, but delivered them to a fish monger in Brooklyn.)

The late Joan Rivers supplied the introduction. In it she describes her family’s clandestine runs to Yonah Schimmel’s Knishery on their way to her aunt’s posh gatherings on Park Ave. “She was quite moved to do this mostly because she wanted to tell her story,” said Rezny. “She wanted to pass this food along to her daughter and grandson. That was a big surprise.”

Clearly, food tugs at everyone’s heartstrings. The first printing at the end of November 2014 of several thousand books sold out within three weeks. A second printing is underway and should be ready by the end of February. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book goes to The Blue Card, a charitable organization that gives money to impoverished Holocaust survivors.

Nostalgia in the form of comfort food tastes delicious and is a source of ethnic pride. Power to the stuffed derma! Schaps’ immersion in food from his Eastern European heritage affected more than his stomach. “I’m somewhat of a lapsed Jew but this rekindled within me the sense of who I am and what I come from,” said Schaps. He is now considering a volunteer stint in Israel.

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