Posted by: Erica Retrochef | January 17, 2011

Cushaw Squash and Vintage Kosher Cooking

After a year of seriously dreadful over-work, I finally got time to be in the kitchen and use more than just the microwave. Oddly, I felt a bit lost. I had ingredients and tools and time, but also felt like I was intruding. Both the place and the work were unfamiliar due to long neglect.

Luckily, around the same time we took a great vacation to visit relatives. Buzz’s grandmother gave me a beautiful cookbook that had belonged to her mother: Tempting Kosher Dishes, by the B. Manischewitz Co.

She didn’t expect it would be all that interesting, she was just doing her usual “since you drove here, your car needs to be crammed full of things I don’t want anymore” routine. But I was entranced. It’s in wonderful condition, it even has pictures, and it’s half in Hebrew. (I found that slightly surprising. Despite the fact that it’s a Kosher cookbook and therefore clearly targeted to a Jewish audience, I would have expected Yiddish to be more prevalent in the 1930’s. Radio programs were in Yiddish, not Hebrew, for example — why the cookbook?)

While the recipes are indeed all kosher, they are clearly selected with Manischewitz products in mind. Also, there is no apparent attempt to be elegant or fancy in the majority of the dishes. If you’ve got a random leftover vegetable and need to make it more edible, Tempting Kosher Dishes will save the day. (Basically, the vegetable recipes tend to follow this pattern: boil the vegetable into mush, puree it, add some matzo crumbs for body, serve.)

Upon returning from vacation, and after our weekly sojourn to the farmers market, we did, indeed, find ourselves with a random leftover vegetable. This massive thing isn’t a watermelon like we thought from a distance; turns out it’s a cushaw squash, a huge squash that tastes like a pumpkin and zucchini had a love child. Sweet and light, it seemed like a good candidate to contribute to a Retro Recipe.

And that’s how we selected Squash Souffle.

1-1/2 lbs. Summer squash
2 eggs
2 tbsp. Manischewitz’s Matzo Meal
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Squash Souffle

Wash and thinly peel squash, grate on coarse grater, then add meal, seasonings, and egg (well beaten). Place in well-buttered casserole, sprinkle meal on top and dot with butter. Bake in oven (350°) for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Despite the Souffle name, this is really easy — mostly because it’s not actually a souffle so much as a baked casserole. First get out all your ingredients.

If you pick a smaller squash, it won’t require trimming or your biggest kitchen knife.

Grate the squash. (I think pumpkin, most squashes, zucchini, and possibly even parsnips could work for this recipe.)

Mix it up with eggs and matzo meal. (Bread crumbs would work.)

Squoosh it into a casserole dish, and top with butter and more crumbs. Bake! Serve!

See? Not a souffle!

The topping was a little bit dry; next time, I’ll vary the recipe slightly by mixing melted butter into the matzo meal before spreading it all over the top. Feel free to liberally salt and season the squash to add some extra flavor; cushaw is delicious, but not a very strong-flavored vegetable. (I added some cumin to mine.) Getting to play with a lovely cookbook, an interesting squash, and an unusual-but-simple recipe was a great reintroduction to the kitchen.

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Responses

  1. I’m so far from 1930s Jewish culture that it’s hard to evaluate the language issue. I suspect, however, that printing the cookbook in Hebrew rather than Yiddish had several advantages. One was purely practical; it allowed them to have two equally prominent front covers, since the languages are written in opposite directions.

    Another important point may have been the relative prestige of Hebrew. In the old days (i.e. before the Shoah), there were millions of Jews who spoke Yiddish, but if you spoke Hebrew, that marked you as learned. Now, there are millions who speak Hebrew, and only the learned know Yiddish. Using Hebrew may have marked the cookbook as belonging to a higher register or class; this was synagogue food, not just corner deli fare. (At this point, I want to add my usual plug that the reintroduction of Hebrew as a common spoken language is a unique event in linguistic history. For well over two thousand years, it was a strictly liturgical tongue, but with the founding of modern Israel, it became the common tongue of the Jews, and there are now thousands upon thousands of people who are monolingual in Hebrew. That would be comparable to having the population of Italy return to speaking classical Latin.)

  2. The cookbook is actually written in Yiddish; Yiddish can be written with either English or Hebrew characters. Generally you can tell the difference between Yiddish and Hebrew because Yiddish words tend to be much longer! The title of this book in Yiddish is actually “Jewish Foods!”

    I have a similar recipe book also by Manischewitz, except mine contains only kosher for Passover recipes. There are several pages devoted solely to the many ways in which one can make liver–with a healthy amount of Manischewitz Matzo Meal, of course! Unlike you, I don’t think I’ll ever get up the courage to actually eat what those recipes produce. Ick!

    • I didn’t know that about Yiddish! Thanks for your comment, that’s really cool 🙂

      There are a lot of retro recipes I simply don’t want to make, such as liver, or brains, or calf’s foot jelly, or almost all gelatin salads… Luckily there’s a decent amount of material around that’s edible. It’s always a mystery what will be delicious and what won’t though…

  3. Oh, that looks just yummy, though it sounds like it came out kind of bland tasting. I think there was a similar recipe mentioned in the book “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott.

  4. That is so fun. I grew up in Tennessee where we called this a “tater pumpkin.” Would never have thought to cook it this way. We always made desserts out of it. Totally plan to make this!!!!!


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