This month, I couldn't be more excited to place a spotlight on author and fulbright scholar Sara Gardner. Here she shares with us the birth of her new self published book: The Rosh Hashanah Seder Cookbook: Stories and Recipes from the Reform Jewish Community of Madrid. Check out this date pudding recipe that was contributed by Yael Cobano, president of the the Jewish Community of Madrid.
Author Spotlight: Sara Gardner
The first time I attended one of the Reform Jewish Community of Madrid’s Friday night potlucks, I knew I had found my home. A couple of weeks before, I had met with Yael Cobano, the community’s president, and we whiled away the hours chatting – about our favorite Jewish rituals, why we felt compelled to be a part of Jewish community, what we liked to cook. I knew after meeting Yael that I had to see what the community was all about, and there I was, that Friday night, sitting and eating with the community’s members as if I had known them my whole life. Over the course of an evening, I fell in love with this vibrant group of people as well as the different dishes they contributed to Sabbath table.
A couple of months before, I had arrived in Madrid to embark on a grand adventure: a Fulbright research grant. Bringing with me a well-established love and scholarship of Sephardic culture, I set out to explore the medieval, pre-expulsion (that is to say, pre-1492) culinary heritage and cultural identity of the Spanish Jewish community. My research underway, I was getting settled into the lifestyle of this new city, still searching for my own community within the sometimes-overwhelming, always-exciting wave of experiences that come with moving to a different country. Immediately when I sat down with the Reform Jewish Community of Madrid, or la Comunidad as I like to call them, I felt rooted in a way I hadn’t really felt since I arrived in Madrid.
Over the course of my Fulbright, la Comunidad turned into my Friday night family. My time with them turned into a regular part of my every week – whether for our weekly potluck, a picnic in Retiro (a large park in the center of Madrid that was a royal get away) or, eventually, to teach cooking classes. Food was – it is — a central part of the experience of la Comunidad. The members of our community hail from all over the world including South America, Israel, North Africa, Spain, and more – and from various Jewish backgrounds, bringing their unique cuisines and stories with them. It’s over and through food that the members of la Comunidad connect, bringing together all of us through our shared love of cooking for each other and eating together.
So, when talking to Yael about ways to raise funds for the community, it was natural that food would play an important role. And that way, over a telephone call while planning for la Comunidad’s Rosh Hashanah meal, the idea for The Rosh Hashanah Seder Cookbook was born. Based on the Sephardic Jewish tradition of creating a seder of symbolic foods, the recipes have been contributed by community members, translated from the Spanish, and updated for the American kitchen. Each section of the book is organized by each of the symbolic ingredients – called simanim— included in the seder, including apples, beans, beets, dates, fish, honey, leeks, pomegranates, and squash. By creating a cookbook based on this seder, we hope to raise funds for the community as we showcase the diverse stories and recipes of la Comunidad.
We hope that through sharing this cookbook, we not only ensure the continuation of the Reform Jewish Community of Madrid, but also that we can share the stories and the recipes that bring global Jewish communities together.
Sara M. Gardner currently works is a food historian and researcher specializing in the culinary heritage and cultural identity of the Sephardic Jews. An alumna of Tufts University, she was a Fulbright graduate researcher in Madrid, Spain during the 2016-2017 year and currently works as the Associate Director of Young Adult Programs at Hebrew College in Newton, MA.
Click here to order your copy of The Rosh Hashanah Seder Cookbook: Stories and Recipes from the Reform Jewish Community of Madrid