Chosen Food – A Year in Review

Posted on December 21st, 2012 by

A blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin.

The end of the month is quickly approaching which means many things – my kids are counting down the minutes to winter break; I’m getting awfully tired of Christmas music; and everyone at the Museum is scrambling to meet end of the year deadlines. The end of December also signals one more important event – the closing of Chosen Food: Cuisine, Culture, and American Jewish Identity. This original JMM exhibition which opened in October 2011 has proven quite popular with visitors and staff and has inspired a variety of food-related conversations, blog posts, partnerships, and programs. It has truly been a year filled with food, food, and more food!

Here in no particular order are some of the highlights of this past year’s exhibition-related activities:

Iron Chef Passover

In 2011 we launched a new program initiative supported by the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Fund for the Enrichment of Jewish Education designed to attract young adults to the JMM for evening programs featuring speakers, exhibit tours, hands-on demonstrations, and workshops. We couldn’t have picked a better time to begin this program series as we themed many of our programs on the topics of food, gardening, and sustainability. Based on the popular Food Network show, we held two Iron Chef competitions (in celebration of Passover and Sukkot). Here we see a team participating in the Iron Chef Passover competition working to incorporate horseradish (the secret ingredient) into their dishes. One of the evening’s winning dishes was a surprisingly delicious horseradish ice cream.


The JMM’s own amazing Esther Weiner hosted EstherFest! a celebration of Chanukah complete with latke making, joke telling, and story sharing. This program proved so popular, we repeated it again this year. Esther’s fame has traveled wide and far and she has been featured on WYPR’s The Signal. We cannot understand why Esther does not have her own cooking show on the Food Network!

Joe Regenstein – Everything You Wanted to Know about Kosher and Halal

Chosen Food highlights the ways in which Jewish food traditions have absorbed the customs of other ethnic and religious groups as well as the extent to which Jewish food culture has impacted mainstream American culture. We continued to explore these cross cultural comparisons through many programs. One program featured Dr. Joseph Regenstein, Professor of Food Science at Cornell University and head of the Kosher and Halal Initiative, who facilitated a fascinating discussion about the similarities and differences between kosher and halal dietary regulations.

Michael Twitty/Kosher Soul

What do you get when you mix Jewish and African American culinary traditions? Kosher Soul, a program featuring culinary historian, Michael Twitty, who demonstrated how he has incorporated his adopted Jewish faith into traditional African American recipes. The results were such tasty dishes as black bean hummus, collard green pastrami soul rolls, and sesame hamantaschen. Audience members loved tasting his dishes.

Knish 101

participants sampling knishes

So many Jewish delicacies to explore in such a short period of time. Knish lover, Laura Silver, provided a fact-filled lecture about the history of knishes followed by a sampling of many of Baltimore’s best home-made and store bought versions.

Chosen Food travels to the White House

Not all of our related programs took place on-site. In April we were invited to travel to DC to participate in a Passover program at the White House. Cookbook author Joan Nathan and White House pastry chef Bill Yosses led a hands-on cooking demonstration of traditional Passover dishes while JMM staff members Karen Falk and Rachel Cylus shared holiday stories.

Food-related programming also proved popular with families. This summer, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Hendler Creamery (a Jewish-owned ice cream company that was located just across the street from the JMM on Baltimore Street), we held several ice cream making (and eating) programs.

Celebrating the connection between Jews and Chinese food and games was the theme of our 2011 annual Christmas Day program, Chanukah, Christmas, and Everything Chinese. Thanks to the assistance of Lois Madow of the American Mah – Jongg Association we were able to provide mah jongg lessons for our visitors along with crafts, games, and tasty Chinese food sampling.

Join us again this year as we continue to celebrate the Jewish/Chinese connection at Dragons and Dreidels on Tues. December 25. [More info can be found at http:/// or call Rachel Cylus at (410) 732-6400 x214]

City Springs school children visiting the exhibit

The exhibit proved popular with audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Thanks to the efforts of our education staff, we developed a range of activities for visiting school groups to enhance their tours through the exhibit with art projects, scavenger hunts, and small group discussions.

Chosen Food also served as inspiration for a year-long partnership project with students from nearby Commodore Rodgers Elementary/Middle School. Students toured the exhibit and then met regularly with JMM staff to gather family recipes and create a classroom cookbook. This year’s partnership project involves the creation of a school community garden.

JMM staff members learning about Jewish agricultural practices

One of our most rewarding partnerships has been with the staff at Kayam Farms at the Pearlstone Center. In addition to facilitating several Brews and Schmooze programs (and supplying the secret ingredient at our Iron Chef Sukkot competition), JMM education staff participated in two workshops at Pearlstone Center where we learned about traditional Jewish farming practices and how to lead related activities for school groups. In this photo you see us participating in an activity designed to teach children about the importance of poly-culture agriculture as opposed to mono-culture. Our group split into two teams, one representing pests and the other crops. As you can see, Elena and I had a great time pretending to be pests!

lining up for gefilte fish corn dogs at GefilteFest

Our culminating event took place this past October as we celebrated perhaps the most Jewish of Jewish foods at GefilteFest. Activities included fish themed activities, specialty tours of the exhibit, snacks, and a gefilte fish making competition featuring Liz Alpern of Gefilteria in Brooklyn; Dave Whaley, first cook at the Four Seasons; and the JMM’s own Susan Press. Believe it or not but top honors went to Chef Whaley’s deep fried gefilte fish corn dog!

Amazingly, this list is not at all comprehensive and only covers a sampling of what we offered this year. Other programs explored borscht making, pie making, bee keeping, canning demonstrations, and more.

If you still have not made it down to visit Chosen Food, do not despair. You still have time…but not much. The exhibit’s last day is Sunday, December 30. It then travels to Atlanta where it will be on view at the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum.

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Gefilte Fish Throwdown Recipes!

Posted on October 22nd, 2012 by

Gefilte Fish in Tomato Sauce

1 Loaf gefilte fish




2 Tbp. oil


1 medium onion diced


2 carrots diced


2 celery diced


15 oz. Tomato sauce


1/3 cup sugar


Salt & pepper


Sautee onion, carrots and celery in oil until soft on medium heat. Add tomato sauce, sugar and salt and pepper.


Defrost gefilte fish loaf ½ way. Slice the loaf into 8 slices and then each slice into 4. Form each piece into a ball and place in the sauce.


Cook on medium heat for 45 minutes.


Serve chilled.

Gefilte Fish a la Gefilteria




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The voyage of a fish

Posted on October 17th, 2012 by

A blog post by Program Manager Rachel Cylus.

Gefilte Fish is rarely served for breakfast.  Some might even say, nine o’clock in the morning is too early for fish in general.  But, on Monday, October 15, the radio personalities at 98 Rock’s morning show – Mickey, Amelia and Spiegel, broke with convention to give the Jewish Museum of Maryland a few minutes to talk about our upcoming program, GefilteFest – Sunday, October 21st from 10-5, and to taste the trademark Gefilte fish loaf from Gefilteria.  This Brooklyn-based Jewish Food startup ( will be featured at Sunday’s event, when Chief Gefiltemonger, Liz Alpern (whose grandmother resides in Baltimore), competes against Four Seasons first cook, Dave Whaley, and local Baltimore mom, Susan Silbiger, for the honor of being crowned Baltimore’s Gefilte Maven.  The “throwdown” will take place at the JMM at 2pm.  Be there.

But back to the radio.  How exactly did this fish make it to TV Hill in Baltimore?  It was quite a journey.  The story began Thursday morning, when with Rochelle Eisenberg, Public Relations Associate at the Associated, called the JMM with great news.  98 Rock was interested in talking about GefilteFest on Monday morning on the air!  Susan Press, CFO at the JMM (and alter ego of chef, Susan Silbiger…) was excited.  But there were some challenges to overcome.  How to get a fresh loaf of Gefilte Fish from Gefilteria, in Brooklyn, NY to Baltimore in time for the show.  It wouldn’t be easy.  The thought of shipping fish overnight sounded, well, rotten.

It was time for Susan to call upon her intricate web of relatives and friends who might be making the trip between Baltimore and NYC that weekend and see who might be a willing gefilte courier.  Her sister!  Susan’s sister was heading to NYC on a shopping trip that weekend.  The fish would be sent to Susan’s parents’ home Sunday afternoon and transported back to Baltimore in her sister’s car that night.  Simple.  At 9pm Susan called her sister to inquire about the shopping trip.  As an afterthought she mentioned the gefilte.

“Oh, I forgot it,” she said.  “But, don’t worry.  My daughter can bring it tomorrow night,” she explained.

Susan began to hyperventilate.  Monday night was too late!  The fish had to be in Baltimore by 8am the next morning.   Then her sister remembered, a niece and her fiancé were at a wedding in Brooklyn.  The niece’s future in-laws would be returning to Baltimore on a bus that night.  The bus left New York at 10pm.  It was already nearly 9:30!

A few phone calls later, Susan’s mother was dressed and headed to the wedding in search of the niece.  It was 9:50pm, and despite searching the hall and phone calls, Susan’s niece was nowhere to be found.  Finally Susan called the niece’s fiancé, who assured her that with only ten minutes to spare, they would get that fish on that bus.  The fiancé found the niece.  The niece found Susan’s mother who passed off the fish.  The niece passed the fish to her future brother-in-law.  The future brother-in-law passed the fish to his mother-in-law.  The mother-in-law took the fish on the bus and returned to Baltimore.  At 7am the next morning, Susan’s niece’s future mother-in-law passed the gefilte to Susan, who gave it to her husband, who waited, patiently, and then anxiously, for me (Rachel Cylus, program manager at the JMM) to pick up the fish for the show.

So here is where I enter the story.  I have never been punctual.  Least of all at 8am in the morning.  And I sure could have used a car mezuzah on that Monday morning (car mezuzahs are available for purchase at the JMM gift shop – they make great gifts).  But alas I had only a GPS, and not a very accurate one at that.  I was running on a tight schedule to make my 8:15 appointment with 98 Rock, and I drove right past Susan’s house.  Her husband, on the lookout to successfully hand off this gefilte fish, ran after my car, fish in arms, ready to hand off the loaf like a quarterback looking for a running back (I think that might be as far as I can take this football allusion). I barely stopped my engine as the fish soared into my hands, and I continued on my way.  Touchdown!!! I made it to the station in time (ok, now I promise the poorly used football references are actually over).

As I stood over the sink at the radio station, slicing the gefilte and artfully painting it with carrot and beet horseradish (as per the instructions of Liz Alpern), I was barely prepared for one of Baltimore’s sillier morning shows.  I walked in, Gefilte plated and in hand to be served to the three personalities, and the jokes began.  I won’t begin to tell you the merciless teasing that Liz Alpern (who was telephoned) and I underwent on that radio show – since I am pretty sure it is archived at http:///  Listen at your own risk!  But the highlights are this: Gefilte fish was a hit (even at 9 in the morning), Liz and I successfully dodged lots of awkward questions from the hosts, and I even got in a plug for my favorite Jewish War of 1812 veteran, Mendes Cohen ( he is awesome, seriously).   But most importantly, now everyone in the world (ok, anyone who listened to 98 Rock on Monday morning), knows about the JMM and GefilteFest.  And now you, dear blog reader, know too.  So take your own Gefilte Fish voyage to the JMM this Sunday, from 10-5 and have a whole lot of fun.

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