Note: When I began this post my intention was to write a normal review of Koshersoul. However, it turned into more of introspective thoughts. Sometimes books just do that. Sorry. Not Sorry.
“Food is an archive, a keeper of secrets.” – Michael Twitty
So I came across Chef Michael Twitty @thecookinggene several years ago. Perhaps it was on Twitter or maybe Instagram, it really doesn’t matter. In the cluttered social media food space his posts captured my attention with stories that wove foods and traditions that were at times as familiar as my grandmothers’ tables.
Other times he shared his travels to Africa and cuisines that were both foreign and fascinating to me. Or as the book cover beautifully portrays the colorful weave of the Challah braids.
Koshersoul: The Faith And Food Journey Of An African American Jew is the book I’ve been waiting for since Michael teased it out. The book is Chef’s memoir about the intersection of Black Jewish and Black American foods wrapped in a colorful scarf of cultures, history, traditions, and Judaism.
Although this is certainly not my story, I am not a Black, Jewish, Southern, Gay Dude, the book unexpectedly became personal to me. I found myself looking for my family in Michael Twitty’s words.
Koshesoul paints a rich landscape of the author’s world that maybe unexpected in a book written by a cultural historian. His vulnerability is what keeps us turning the page as we learn about his truth.
At the same time, Michael leaves himself room to explore concepts and admits to not having all the answers or all of the questions. The subtext that ran through the book for me was as powerful.
It is a challenge we all face — the courage to be our authentic selves. Or how do we not become a stranger in a strange land within our own homes?
“How does something become seen as authentically Jewish?” – Chava Black, Black Jewish culinarian. This question introduces Part V: The Prepared Table. It opened another window for me.
As we approach, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I wondered what Nana and Grandma would think of finding kreplack filled with collard greens in their chicken soup or eating Berbere brisket made with warm spices like ground ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and cumin.
Learning how the (Jewish) Holidays are celebrated, with foods not traditional to my Askenazi family, felt a little odd and yes, a little uncomfortable. I was reading about my world but it wasn’t my world. It’s funny how food, especially from your childhood, can bring comfort but when a recipe is changed, even with just the addition of different spices, it can wobble our reality At the same time, it can bring a delicious perspective on a traditional dish. .
Through out the book we are introduced to Southern Black & White Jews who share stories and insights from their tables. You’ll also meet Shani Mink, cofounder and executive director or the Jewish Farmer Network, along with others who shaped Michael’s experiences. There is a treasure of resources including: 50 recipes, Holiday menus, Prayers, Kosher food ideas, and a Glossary. But! if you are looking for a typical cookbook – walk on by this is not the book for you.
Koshersoul is a tapestry weaving cultures, foods, love, pain, loneliness, joy, belonging, not belonging with multi-colored threads of Michael Twitty’s deep commitment to Judaism and family – new and old.
It is a book where, no matter your orientation or beliefs, you just might discover a roadmap of how not to be to a ‘stranger in a strange land’ but your authentic soul.
Through something as complex and simple as appreciating how your family’s food traditions are part of an intricate dance that defines ‘Food Is Love’… just perhaps you’ll find your place.
Did I find myself, my family in a book that focuses on the world of Black Jews? Strangely yes.
More! -Author of The Cooking Gene, 2018 James Beard Foundation Book Award for Book of the Year