Joan Nathan is the author of numerous cookbooks, each of which focuses on an aspect of Jewish life and culture. What makes her books unique is that each recipe comes with a story, enabling the reader to learn about much more than how to prepare a dish, but where the dish originated, how Jewish migration and living in different lands have changed the dish, and its meaning to the family from which it came. Thus, Joan is not only a cookbook author, but a cultural historian and food writer as well. Her books educate about Jewish life, tradition, and Jewish history.
Joan’s first book was The Flavor of Jerusalem, written in 1975 when she worked for the mayor of Jerusalem. In her interview, she talks about her Jewish identity and the impact visiting Israel had on her. But from there, exploring Jewish food has opened her up to a much broader understanding of what defines “Jewish food,” and by extension, Jewish history and culture. She tells how the recipes and stories come together, and how people sharing recipes in their kitchens often reveal much about their own lives in the process.
In the full interview (see transcript), Joan also reflects on Judaism as a “table-centered culture.” And, she reminds the next generation of the importance of creating tradition through meals. “If you have sushi carry-out all the time, or from Trader Joe’s, what memories are you going to give to your children?”