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Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South Paperback – August 26, 2010


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Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South + Religion in the American South: Protestants and Others in History and Culture + Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (August 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807871230
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807871232
  • Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 7.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #635,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Many traditional Southern foods—pulled-pork barbecue, crab cakes, fried oyster po' boys, to name a few—violate traditional Jewish dietary laws, which forbid the consumption of pork and shellfish. What's a Southern Jew to do? Anthropological historian Ferris (UNC–Chapel Hill) answers that question in a gustatory tour of the Jewish South. She uncovers many dishes that blend Jewish and Southern foodways (recipes included for such tasties as Temple Israel Brisket and Cornmeal-Fried Fish Fillets with Sephardic Vinagre Sauce). Ferris sees food as a symbol that encompasses the problem of how Jews live in a region dominated by Christians: "The most tangible way to understand Jewish history and culture in the South is at the dinner table." Cynics will wonder if a Jewish kugel (noodle casserole) prepared in the South is really any different from kugel in Chicago. Ferris's answer is an emphatic yes—because Jews in the South face different challenges than those in Chicago. Southern Jews must be more intentional about cooking that kugel and passing the recipe down from generation to generation. If this book were a restaurant, Michelin would award it two out of three stars: not absolutely first-rate, but "excellent cooking, worth a detour." (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"Marcie Cohen Ferris's Matzoh Ball Gumbo is the definitive study on Jewish cooking in the American South, taking the reader on a fascinating journey to dinner tables throughout the Mississippi Delta, Charleston, and beyond. Over four centuries, southern and Jewish cultures have mingled, resulting in Pecan Kugel and Pesach Fried Green Tomatoes. A delicious and sometimes poignant world emerges, complete with the history, stories, and recipes from this unique cultural cross-section of southern Jews."
-Joan Nathan, author of Jewish Cooking in America

"A bountiful feast brimming with well-researched history, loving memories, and unique recipes. This is the perfect introduction to the distinctive faith, culture, and foodways of southern Jews."
-Jonathan D. Sarna, Brandeis University, author of American Judaism: A History

"Delectable, from start to finish. Marcie Cohen Ferris does for the ethnography of food in the Jewish South what Jessica Harris has done for African Diaspora cooking. Matzoh Ball Gumbo tells the story of how Jews who settled south of the Mason Dixon line adjusted their eating habits to their new surroundings and created a unique creole cuisine. At the heart of the story is a paradox: how can there be such a thing as southern Jewish cooking when the laws of kashrut, governing what foods Jews may or may not eat, forbid such staples of southern kitchens as pork, shrimp, oysters, and crab? When you've tried Baked Redfish in Creole Court Bouillon you'll know."
-Dale Rosengarten, curator, Special Collections, College of Charleston, and coeditor of A Portion of the People: Three Hundred Years of Southern Jewish Life

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By I. King on April 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I expected a cookbook (which is why it's 4 stars instead of 5, and that's the *only* reason), but got a history book instead.

It's an amazing book. My grandmother worked for Jewish families in the 50s and 60s and I remember accompanying her to their homes when I was a youngster visiting her in NC. There is a certain nostalgia there as the Jewish people always treated her with respect and dignity. All the while they were walking their own precarious tightrope between the gentiles and the black people.

I also found something more while poring over the pages of this book and that is a link to my family's own Jewish past. I have the utmost respect for the amount of research done by Marcie Ferris. It was a herculean task!

Oh. And the recipes (the few) are pretty terrific.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on November 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Nine-tenths Jewish American history, one-tenth cookbook, Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales Of The Jewish South combines tales of growing up and growing old in a Southern Jewish family with vintage black-and-white photographs and mouth-watering recipes. Delights such as Camp Blue Star Claremont Salad, Mimah's Cheesecake, Caper Sauce Fish and more supplement this lengthy and engaging history with a homestyle perspective. Exhaustive research and an index for quick and easy topic or recipe lookup round out this leisurely reading delight.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Southern Expat on January 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
A lovely, well written book that captures the complications and accomodations of being Jewish in the South. The recipes are wonderful. If you're a southern Jew, you'll feel right at home. If you're not, you'll learn a lot about Jewish life outside New York!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michaela on September 3, 2010
Format: Paperback
My fiancé and I are Jews from Louisiana, and got this book as a gift. At first, we thought that it was a cookbook, but it is a history book with recipes.

Pleasantly surprised! Love it!
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jewish Cajun on May 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
As a Deep South Jewish expatriate, I can't say enough about how thoroughly Marcie Cohen Ferris did her research. There is no doubt that she has covered the differences-and similarities-of the various southern states with great heart and accuracy! The sheer volume of names of those she got family information from is more than admirable. The book belongs in every Jewish household-northern and southern! And non-Jewish readers will get a wonderful picture of the influence food had in Southern Jewish homes-part of American culinary history.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Groner VINE VOICE on March 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This was a wonderful topic for a book -- how Southernness and Jewishness came together in the Jewish kitchen. Cohen Ferris, herself a Jewish woman from a small town in Arkansas, has done exhaustive research, no doubt a labor of love, and has perpetuated many people's memories.

The problem with the book is that it is quite repetitious. Ferris Cohen correctly points out that the culture and history of Atlanta, New Orleans, the Mississippi Delta, and so on are all distinct from each other. Then, however, she spends much of her time recounting menus of long-ago occasions and concluding, over and over again, that the balance between kosher and non-kosher food and between European and American Southern delicacies was important and hard to navigate, because food is so important in daily life.

It is not so much a question of Ferris Cohen's writing style but of the fact that she seemed compelled to put on paper all of the results of her painstaking interviews. Perhaps a more insightful historian could have made more of Ferris Cohen's material, but this book just seemed too long.
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