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Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South Paperback – September 3, 2010

4.0 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Ferris continues the exploration of Jewish influences on Southern cooking with Matzoh Ball Gumbo.--Daily Advertiser



The definitive study of the genre. . . . From Ferris's research a wonderful collection of recipes has emerged. . . . Ferris meticulously records never-before-told tales from folks like African American bar mitzvah caterers in Atlanta, Orthodox rabbis accused of smoking tongues in decidedly unkosher smokehouses in Memphis, and a family in the Mississippi Delta who, unable to keep kosher for lack of available ingredients, would nonetheless never eat catfish.--Saveur



Fascinating reading mixed with delicious recipes.--Chicago Tribune



A heartwarming, beautifully researched travel through Southern history that readers can really sink their teeth into. . . . Matzoh Ball Gumbo is literally a true taste of the good things in life emerging from the tragedies and triumphs of cultural diversity and the recipes . . . will be a high point of the book for any cook, any reader. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding and Matzoh Ball Gumbo serves it to perfection." --The Advocate



This culinary journey embraces oral histories, poignant anecdotes and evocative photographs to explore the power of food in the Jewish South. More than 30 recipes, many blending Jewish and Southern food traditions, add a cook's perspective and illustrate the story at the dinner table.--Chapel Hill Magazine



Like the gumbo of its title, Marcie Cohen Ferris's new book offers a rich stew to savor. . . . Meticulously researched and documented, eminently readable, further enlivened with the voices of Ferris's many interviewees, and illustrated with photographs, newspaper clippings, and more, Matzoh Ball Gumbo provides an utterly nourishing read.--The Forward



A New York Times Notable Cookbook of 2005
A Chicago Tribune Favorite Cookbook of 2005
A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Top Cookbook of 2005



[Matzoh Ball Gumbo] . . . is a blend of research and real people. . . . The tales--insightful, funny and occasionally heartbreaking--come complete with recipes, including one for her mother's Rosh Hashana jam cake.--New York Times



Extraordinary and multifaceted. . . . It is at once scholarly and entertaining--a difficult combination to achieve. [This reviewer] smiled at many passages, delighted in the personal stories, and developed a much stronger sense of place. And [the reviewer] was always left hungry.--Journal of Southern History



In Matzoh Ball Gumbo, A Culinary Journey of the Jewish South, Arkansas native Marcie Cohen Ferris explores how Jews embraced, avoided, and adapted southern food and, in that process, found themselves at home.--Chapel Hill Herald



It's delightful to be able to experience these flavors in your own kitchen and equally enlightening to reflect on the simple acts of daily meals that can combine to create a history.--Appetite for Books



A compelling storyteller, Ferris turns history into riveting reading.--Jewish News



Takes readers on a tasty road trip.--Arkansas Libraries



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. . . . Exhaustive research and an index for quick and easy topic recipe lookup round out this leisurely reading delight.--Midwest Book Review



Just plain fun, as well as being thought-provoking. . . . This is the sort of book that causes you to interrupt your spouse's work to read bits aloud. It will be at the top of my gift list for almost everyone next year, and it should certainly be on your bookshelf.--Southern Cultures



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 . . . answers that question in a gustatory tour of the Jewish South. . . . If this book were a restaurant, Michelin would award it two out of three stars: . . . 'excellent cooking, worth a detour.'--Publishers Weekly



Fascinating reading, mixed with delicious recipes.--Houston Chronicle



Handsomely produced, filled with vivid and evocative photographs with many piquant sidebars. . . . The carefully selected recipes that accompany each chapter are skillfully adapted and usable.--Journal of Material Religion



Sprinkled with recipes, [Matzoh Ball Gumbo] is a culinary walk through the unique history of the Jews of the American South.--World Jewish Digest



A must-read for Vicksburg-area residents. . . . Ferris is no ordinary cookbook author. She is a writer of history – Southern Jewish history as it can be told through the recipes served on Jewish family tables.--Vicksburg Post



Matzoh Ball Gumbo is a well-researched book, lovingly told with personal anecdotes, illustrative visual materials, and . . . historical and family recipes.--Gastronomica



In Matzoh Ball Gumbo, author Marcie Cohen Ferris has chronicled an important history of food and culture that is a fundamental element of who we are as southerners.--A Rep Reading blog



[A] big beautiful book about Southern Jewish cooking, and the cooks who cook it, and the families who eat it.--Arkansas Times



A compelling storyteller, Ferris turns history into riveting reading.--Jewish Telegraphic Agency



With recipes like Sabbath Marble Cake and Mimah's Cheesecake, this book is sure to be a hit with anyone interested in cookery, Jewish history, or Southern history.--Library Journal



It may sound trivial, but no doubt the invention of Crisco was the answer to the prayers of some Jewish women in the South. . . . The miracle of Crisco is just one of the fascinating facts presented in Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South. . . . Ferris . . . tell[s] the history of the Jewish South from a cook's perspective.--Raleigh News & Observer



A Jewish native of Arkansas and anthropological historian examines the compromises, adaptations and challenges of a people adrift in a land where such forbidden foods as pork and shellfish were staples.--Black Issues Book Review



A fascinating story of immigration, acculturation, and assimilation. . . . Matzoh Ball Gumbo is a book to savor and to share.--Austin Chronicle



A fascinating look at the differences of the kosher kitchen.--Charleston Post & Courier



Goes far beyond the kitchen . . . documents Southern Jewish domestic, social, racial, religious, and business life over three centuries. Rich in anecdote and based on extensive interviews, Matzoh Ball Gumbo records an important aspect of the American Jewish experience.--Jewish Book World

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; 1St Edition edition (September 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807871230
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807871232
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 0.8 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #929,943 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Interesting reading for a background on late 19th - early 20th century Southern US Jews, from a culinary standpoint. Because of Kashrut, looking at the cooking traditions is a good way of getting at Jewish migrations.
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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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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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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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