When I tell people that I am a doctoral student in Food Studies, I often joke about my enthusiasm for eating. While this is not untrue – I do take great joy in consuming food – the gustatory aesthetics of eating is not what I find most compelling about food on an academic or a personal level. Instead, from my perspective, the beauty and power of food lies in its ability to transmit narratives and to build connections through shared experiences. Meals are laced with memories, containing familiar recipes, adhering to rituals, or, perhaps, generating stories that will be remembered at future gatherings around a table. Consuming food with others facilitates human connections and produces and maintains communities. I was recently reminded of the emotional and community-building impact of food while completing a research project on Holocaust cookbooks.
The topic of Holocaust cookbooks itself elicited no end of questions, from bafflement (“what is a ‘Holocaust cookbook’?”) to disbelief (“it doesn’t make any sense that people would want to write about food related to the Holocaust”) to discomfort (“isn’t it insensitive to talk about food in a context of extreme deprivation?”). However, listening to and respecting the voices emanating from the pages of these cookbooks leads to the unambiguous conclusion that talking about food-related memories, debating the ingredients and preparation methods of common dishes, preparing meals, and sharing foods persistently affirm resistance, survival, and even joy among Holocaust survivors.
In my research, I focused on three cookbooks. The first was written and compiled by a woman named Mina Pächter during her time as a prisoner in Theresiendstadt, a labour and transit camp in Czechoslovakia. Published in Cara De Silva’s In Memory’s Kitchen: The Women of Terezín, the cookbook contains many of Pächter’s own recipes as well as several from other women imprisoned in the camp. It was saved and taken out of the camp by a friend after Pächter’s death, and eventually, after several decades, made its way to her daughter who had escaped to Palestine.
 and Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival, were compiled from interviews and oral histories with Holocaust survivors and their children and grandchildren after the end of the Second World War. These cookbooks follow the same structure, in which one or more recipes accompany a survivor’s narrative (either in their own words or as recounted by their children or grandchildren); the recipes usually relate to some aspect of the survivor’s memories.
All three cookbooks are “community” or “compiled” cookbooks, meaning that many people contributed their personal recipes, which were then amassed, organized, and published (unedited from the original submission). The community cookbook is a unique genre, not oriented toward marketability and sales. Rather, it records home cooking, preserving women’s practices, through the creation of a communally written record that reflects the food practices of a community (commonly, these types of cookbooks contain multiple versions of a given recipe, as many members of the community will have their own version). Community cookbooks frequently aim to raise money for a cause, too, as is the case with Holocaust Survivor’s Cookbook, which is a fundraising project for the Carmei Ha’ir Soup Kitchen in Jerusalem. This type of cookbook can solidify and intensify group identity, contributing to a sense of connectivity among members of potentially geographically dispersed communities through a shared, collaboratively written text.
Both the Holocaust Survivor’s Cookbook and Recipes Remembered contain a message to readers about how to use the cookbooks, informing them that the most important to do is to the read the survivors’ stories and then share these stories with others alongside the foods cooked from survivors’ recipes. Reflecting on this directive and the very nature of cooking and eating, both profoundly experiential acts, I felt that the best way to engage with and communicate the nature of these cookbooks to my classmates and professor was to select several of their recipes and prepare them.
|Irma Hamburger Reich|
|recipe for cake batter.|
|Henny Bachrach's Almond and Apple Cake|
Thus, Henny Bachrach’s cake, alongside the hundreds of recipes contained in these cookbooks, has become not only a conduit of the stories this family, but a part of new stories as well. By preparing and eating the recipes contained in Holocaust cookbooks, we repeat the culinary practices of survivors who shared their stories, participating in a ritual preserved in the memories of a survivor or their children or grandchildren. The food is an embodied echo of their lives, experiences, and stories, not only preserving their memories but generating new networks of sharing among those who prepare and eat these recipes.
Twitter handle: @quixoticavocado
 Michael Simonson, “In Memory’s Kitchen: A Legacy from the Women of Terezín,” Leon Baeck Institute Website, March 31, 2016 https://www.lbi.org/2016/03/auto-draft-5/, accessed September 18, 2017.
 The Caras Family (eds.), Holocaust Survivor Cookbook (Florida: Caras & Associates, Inc., 2007).  June Feiss Hersh (ed.), Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival, (Museum of Jewish Heritage, 2012).
 See Kennan Ferguson, “Intensifying Taste, Intensifying Identity: Collectivity through Community Cookbooks,” Signs 37.3 (Spring 2012): 695-717.
 Images from Recipes Remembered, Hersh (ed.), 218 and 219.