One of the many aspects I love about South Carolina is the long, deep history of so many different groups who landed here in the 17th and 18th centuries, for reasons as diverse as their cultures. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Colonial South Carolina offered economic opportunities and a degree of religious tolerance that was exceptional for the time.
South Carolina’s Jewish population surged in the aftermath of the American Revolution, and seven Jewish men from Charleston were among the first to buy town lots in Columbia when it became the state capital in 1786. By 1800, Charleston was home to the largest and most cultured Jewish community in North America, containing 20 percent of all Jews residing in the United States. Fast forward to modern times, and in July 2018, South Carolina was the first state to adopt a uniform definition of antisemitism, which was added as a proviso to the state’s annual budget.
It is not surprising, then, that South Carolina would have grown its own rich flavor of Jewish culture over the years with accompanying culinary traditions. In Kugels & Collards, Rachel Gordin Barnett and Lyssa Kligman Harvey have pulled together a remarkable collection of essays and recipes.
In the introduction, UNC Chapel Hill professor of American studies and former president of the Southern Foodways Alliance Marcie Cohen Ferris references South Carolinian and Southern historian Charles Joyner, who described food as an expressive language of place. The vocabulary in this comestible language is comprised of the locally available foods, whereas the grammar reflects the ancestral taste preferences, recipes, spices, and cooking methods.
“Joyner defined culinary grammar as ‘the appropriate way to put those ingredients together to generate meaning.’ Vocabulary was encountered; grammar was remembered. This incisive analysis is a compelling model to apply to the narratives and recipes of Jewish South Carolinians gathered in Kugels & Collards,” Ferris explains. “We can easily identify a South Carolina vocabulary of core ingredients such as rice, grits, collards, and peaches, while the grammar reveals the influence of remembered recipes and cooking methods from eastern and central Europe, Africa, and even the Middle East. This is South Carolina Jewish food.”
This glossy cookbook is filled not only with savory recipes and their special stories, but also with beautiful food photography, as well as historic images. Examples include write-ups on “Pumpernickel Specialist Sam Zusman and his Columbia Bakery” and “Groucho Miller’s Russian Blintzes,” with accompanying black and white photos from the 1940s and ’50s of these Columbia legends and their landmark businesses.
Enjoy this excerpted titular recipe for Savory Southern Kugel — created to include collards in a traditional kugel — to spice up your collard consumption this winter!
Savory Southern Kugel
One 12-ounce bag extra wide egg noodles
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15-ounce) bag frozen, chopped collards, defrosted (or fresh equivalent)
Salt and pepper to taste
6 eggs, beaten
16 ounces sour cream
15 ounces ricotta
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon red pepper
6 ounces feta cheese crumbles
Preheat oven to 350 F and butter a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Bring water to boil. Add salt to taste. Add the noodles and cook 10 minutes, or until al dente. Drain well and set aside.
Melt 1 tablespoon butter and olive oil in a frying pan. Add onions and garlic and cook until fragrant and soft. Add the collards. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and cook for a few minutes until cooked through.
In a mixing bowl, combine the beaten eggs, sour cream, ricotta, and spices. Add the collard mixture to bowl and stir well. Pour into a buttered baking dish. Dot the top with remaining butter. Cook for 30 minutes or until set.
Before serving, add the feta cheese crumbles to the top of casserole and brown slightly. Makes 10 to 12 servings.
©2023 Rachel Gordin Barnett and Lyssa Kligman Harvey. Used by permission of the University of South Carolina Press.