History of CHULENT!!


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Rabbi Laurence Skopitz didn’t grow up eating cholent. But he does fancy the notion that his Orthodox grandfather, Charles Zacharia, who once built bakery ovens in Belarus before immigrating to North America, provided him with the “genetic connection” that has inspired him to make the Sabbath stew at Temple Beth David every week. That’s because in the old country, Jewish families would take their cholent to communal bakers’ ovens. To protect the food’s kosher status, the pot was sealed with a paste of flour and water, says Brooklyn’s Matthew Goodman, who writes a food column for the national Jewish weekly newspaper Forward. On the way home from schul, or synagogue, families would pick up their pots. Typically this task was reserved for the men and children of the family, writes Cairo-born food historian Claudia Roden in The Book of Jewish Food (Knopf, $35). Some older congregants at Temple Beth David in Irondequoit remember their elders keeping the cholent pot simmering on the back of apartment heaters or furnaces. In today’s kitchens, different cooking techniques honor the Sabbath prohibition against lighting a fire to cook. Skopitz uses the modern electric Crock-Pot, which is started before Sabbath and turned off via a timer. Some people cook cholent overnight in the oven, while others set their pots on stovetop burners covered by a blech, a large metal sheet that moderates the heat so the stew won’t burn. Cholent, a Yiddish word, has several etymologies. The best known posits cholent as a compound word from the French chaud (warm) and lent (slow). According to Roden, Jews once populated the French region of Languedoc, where a similar dish, cassoulet, has its origins. Expelled in 1394, many Jews resettled in Germany, where cholent adopted regional accoutrements such as kishke (sausage) and knaidlach (matzo balls)….Egyptian-born Sam Asher grew up in Utica but frequently visited relatives in Israel who had their own take on cholent. “From my tradition, cholent contained sweet things like plums, in addition to potatoes and beans. But most importantly are the hunks of meat. What was nice is you don’t have to be rich. You could use cheap cuts like shoulder that would become tender over the long, slow process,” says the Beth David cantor.
Asher says he loves the rabbi’s cholent tradition for spiritual as well as practical reasons. By the time cholent is served, “I have been singing my guts out for three hours, so I’m very hungry.”