The book’s recipes are based on hundreds the author found stashed away in her elderly mother’s kitchen drawers.
By United with Israel Staff
Genie Milgrom was raised as a Catholic but spent 15 years tracking her family history to discover the source of her strong affinity to Judaism. What she discovered has been presented in six books.
The author has now published a kosher cookbook called, Recipes of My 15 Grandmothers: Unique Recipes and Stories from the Times of the Crypto-Jews during the Spanish Inquisition.
The recipes are based on hundreds the author found stashed away in her elderly mother’s kitchen drawers. The handwritten recipes testify to her family’s long history as Crypto-Jews as well as their travels through Spain, Portugal, Cuba and the United States.
Recipes included are for making chicken, meat, fish, dairy, side dishes, sauces, beverages, deserts and Passover delicacies.
The ancient recipes needed to be translated,and some ingredients had to be changed as they are less available in countries outside of Spain, Portugal or Cuba.
Milgrom enlisted some 50 friends, colleagues and family members to test and perfect the recipes for today’s cooks, according to Times of Israel.
Included with each recipe are heartwarming and informative narratives along with the history of each dish and the challenges faced by Milgrom’s team of cooks and bakers to get the recipe right for the book.
“When I make this food and smell the aromas that I know they also smelled, it connects me so strongly with the grandmothers,” Milgrom told the Times. “Knowing that I’m eating what they ate brings me closer to my heritage.”
Jewish Customs in a Catholic Family
Milgrom, born in Cuba, was able to trace her ancestors back hundreds of years to Spain. In 1960, her family left Cuba for Miami following the Communist revolution.
Each time her family moved, they were careful to take with them several boxes of family documents, some hundreds of years old.
Though raised Catholic, Milgrom’s family had “strange” customs that made her feel different from others. Most of these related to food.
For example, when her grandmother baked bread, she would take a piece off, wrap it in foil and burn it in the oven. Originally, her grandmother said this was for “good luck.” However, Milgrom later learned that this is done by Jews in memory of offerings performed during ancient Temple times in Jerusalem.
Additionally, eggs were always cracked into a glass and checked for blood before being used, a requirement of keeping kosher as Jews do not eat blood. Vegetables and rice were checked and cleared of any bugs before use, also a Jewish requirement as eating bugs is forbidden by the Bible seven times. Remarkably, no one ate pork, a staple in the diet of Spain, Portugal, and Cuba.
It was also a custom in Milgrom’s family to only marry relatives. In fact, Milgrom’s mother was the first in hundreds of years to break that tradition.
She later discovered, at the death of her grandmother, that another family custom was to bury the dead as soon as possible, something Jews do and Catholics do not.
Seeking Jewish Roots
Seeking the truth about her family and herself, she started to read about Judaism. She eventually got to an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Miami, felt at home, and converted a few years later.
Her family was not enthusiastic about her choice of religion. Her grandmother was particularly distraught. “She was visibly upset when I converted and kept telling me it was dangerous to be a Jew,” Milgrom said, according to Aish.com.
After her grandmother died, Milgrom’s mother handed her a box that contained a small old hamsa charm and a tiny gold earring bearing a Jewish Star of David.
Realizing that her family were most likely Crypto-Jews forced to convert during the Spanish Inquisition, she received the family papers that had traveled with them for centuries, hired a professional genealogist and traced her maternal ancestry, because membership in the Jewish people is passed down by the mother.
Following 15 years of research, Milgrom traced her family’s lineage back to 1545 Spain, to a small town called Fermoselle. Through a hunch, she asked her genealogist to see if her family could be tracked down to Portugal. Indeed, 45 relatives who fled to Portugal before the inquisition and had lived as Jews were discovered.
In total, the author traced 22 generations to pre-Inquisition Portugal and Spain through 1405. Included were 30 or so relatives who were judged or burned during the Inquisition
The Spanish Inquisition
The Spanish Inquisition lasted from 1478 to 1834. Jews were forced either to convert to Catholicism or die a brutal death, often by being burned at the stake. Many Jews publicly behaved as Christians and privately did what they could to maintain Jewish customs.
“I finally understood why there was such a strong feeling inside of me,” Milgrom said, according to Aish.com. “These grandmothers were killed for not eating pork, for changing sheets on Friday, for not cleaning house on Shabbat. These women were burned at the stake for things I do every day.”
Milgrom travels on speaking tours, sharing her fascinating story and books.
“My story resonates with Jews from all backgrounds because here is a person who was literally crying for something that other people just toss by the wayside,” Milgrom said, according to Aish.com. “I want Jews to appreciate the treasure they have in being Jewish.”
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