Thanking Gil Marks

Posted on December 10th, 2014 by

I never met him, but I and the JMM owe a great debt to the late rabbi and historian of Jewish food Gil Marks, who died on December 5. Marks’ magnum opus, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food was published in 2010 and became an enormously important reference for our 2011 exhibition, Chosen Food: Cuisine, Culture, and American Jewish Identity.  It’s a remarkable work with entries for dishes from Jewish communities around the world, and for the Jewish meanings of foods one would never think of as “Jewish.” His entry on “Challah,” for example, explains the meaning and origins of the name of our delicious Sabbath bread, and describes the sort of loaf it actually referred to in the time of the Jewish Kingdom. He also has an entry on “Salt.” The book also contains recipes and detailed instructions for several of his entries. I have given it as a gift to several of my foodie friends, and I consult my own copy frequently. I highly recommend it as an irreplaceable resource and a fun read.

Recently published remembrances, (links to two good posts:  and )of Rabbi Marks note that even greater than his knowledge of Jewish food and its importance to Jewish culture and identity was his enthusiasm and generosity in sharing his knowledge and work with all who asked. The JMM experienced this generosity first-hand when in 2012 he allowed us to post the recipes for cholent and cholent kugel on our Chosen Food blog. With gratitude for his generosity and sorrow at his loss, here is an excerpt from that post.


I decided to try a cholent made “the right way,” turning for instruction to Gil Marks’ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food Here I found not only the recipe, but the fascinating history of this very Jewish food.

Two Jewish girls carrying pots of food for the Sabbath, Chicago. October 20, 1903. Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum.

Two Jewish girls carrying pots of food for the Sabbath, Chicago. October 20, 1903. Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum.

Cholent (also called schalet), based on the slow cooked stews (hamin, from the Hebrew word meaning “hot”) of the Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews, reached the Ashkenazim of Eastern Europe in the 12th or 13th century, via Spain and France. The word cholent may be derived from the Old French word for warm (chald/chalt) or it may come more directly from the Spanish escallento, also meaning warm. It became the custom for the homemakers of Europe to bring their pots of stew, lids sealed with flour paste to ensure against non-kosher taint, to the local bakery where the coals were banked to remain hot during Shabbat—a custom followed in Europe until the Shoah, and also brought by immigrants to the United States.

Cholent ingredients

Cholent ingredients

 I arranged the ingredients in the pot, following the order specified in Marks’ recipe. I had a little trouble with “water to cover,” since my pot was very full. (In fact, it boiled over during the cooking, leaving me with a major post-Shabbat cleaning project.) Don’t skip the hour long simmer Marks recommends. The cholent must go hot into the oven.

Cooking in the pot.

Cooking in the pot.

Two teaspoons of salt seemed like a lot to me, but it turns out to be just right. And don’t make the recipe at all if you don’t like the flavor of bay leaves. This ingredient is absolutely essential!

I topped the cholent with Marks’ cholent kugel, rolled into a long log that extended down the center of the cholent, from one end of the pot to the other. When I lifted the heavy lid the next day, I found the loaf flattened into an oval, but it was a beautiful brick red-brown from the paprika. It was surprisingly delicious, if somewhat solid.

How was the cholent? The beans and barley were not only cooked through, they almost lost definition. The meat was melt-in-your-mouth soft, and the seasonings were just on the edge of overcooked. I would have liked a little more gravy; don’t lose yours over the side of the pot!

Recipes (courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, by Gil Marks)

Ashkenazic Sabbath Stew (Cholent)

6 to 8 servings

1 ½ pounds beef or veal marrow bones

About 2 cups any combination mixed dried navy, lima, pink, pinto, and kidney beans

3 medium yellow onions, sliced

2 to 3 cloves garlic, whole or minced

6 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered

3 pounds beef flanken, brisket, or chuck roast

¾ to 1 cup barley

2 to 3 bay leaves

About 2 teaspoons table salt or 4 teaspoons kosher salt

About 1 teaspoon ground black pepper

About 2 quarts water

1. In the order given, place the bones, beans, onions, garlic, potatoes, beef, barley, bay leaves, salt and pepper in a large, heavy pot. Add enough water to cover.

2. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, skimming the froth from the surface, until the beans are nearly soft, about 1 hour.

3. Add more water if necessary. Tightly cover, place on a blech (a thin sheet of metal placed over the range top and knobs) over low heat, or in a 225° F oven, and cook overnight. Serve warm.

Cholent Kugel

4 to 6 servings

5 thick slices challah or 2 large rolls, torn into small pieces

1 ½ cups (7.5 ounces) all-purpose flour

¼ cup vegetable oil or schmaltz

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 to 3 teaspoons paprika

About 1 teaspoon table salt or 2 teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground white or black pepper

In a medium bowl, soak the challah in water until soft but not mushy, about 2 minutes. Drain and squeeze out the excess moisture. Place in a medium bowl and mash until smooth. Add the flour, oil, egg, paprika, salt, and pepper, adding more flour if too loose; the mixture should be able to hold its shape. Form into a log and place it on top of hot cholent [before placing the cholent into the oven].

 karenA blog post by Curator Karen Falk. To read more posts from Karen click HERE.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland


Posted on April 27th, 2011 by

Just about every Baltimorean—and many other Americans as well—know about Mayor William Donald Schaefer’s famous 1981 swim with the seals, a characteristically audacious stunt that signaled Baltimore’s revival and helped launch the National Aquarium. Far fewer know that Mayor Schaefer also helped launch the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

In the early 80s, the leaders of Jewish Historical Society of Maryland (the Museum’s predecessor) were considering a building project. The group had saved the Lloyd Street Synagogue from demolition in 1960 and continued to run tours there. Now they wanted to construct a building that would house the Society’s growing archives, serve researchers, and include an exhibition gallery. They planned to build it uptown, near the growing Jewish community.

E.B. Hirsch, Mayor William Donald Schaefer and Robert Weinberg at the signing of City Council Bills 47 and 69 regarding the Jewish Heritage Center, 1984.

Enter Robert Weinberg, trustee and head of the Jewish Heritage Center task force, who recommended locating the new center on Lloyd Street, flanked by the Lloyd Street and B’nai Israel Synagogues, in what was once the heart of immigrant Jewish Baltimore. It was a risky idea at the time; the neighborhood was in decline, and deteriorating public housing high rises dominated.  The bold venture was on Robert Weinberg’s mind as he walked down Lombard Street one April day in 1982 and encountered Mayor Schaefer. Weinberg told him about his idea and the mayor, eager to spread redevelopment beyond the Inner Harbor, embraced it immediately, committing City funds that were critical to the project’s success.

Waiting for the procession

That encounter was on my mind as I walked down Lombard Street yesterday, 29 years later. I was on my way to join a small crowd of people who were waiting for Mayor Schaefer’s funeral cortege to roll down Corned Beef Row. Many of us—including Councilwoman Rikki Spector, Rabbi Alan Yuter of B’nai Israel, Martha Weiman, president of the Baltimore Jewish Council, and I, were there representing the Jewish community, to which Mayor Schaefer had been a longtime friend. Others came simply to pay their respects to a man who had the courage to believe in Baltimore at a time when it wasn’t necessarily fashionable to do so.

Presenting the bouquet

The procession was running late, so the group waited on the street corner for nearly an hour, swapping memories, both solemn and celebratory. Finally, the approaching helicopters announced the arrival of the procession. Together with Rikki Spector and Martha Weiman, I had the honor of presenting an enormous bouquet of flowers to Lainy Lebow-Sachs, Mayor Schaefer’s friend and longtime aide.

I came to Baltimore several years after Mayor Schaefer moved on to the State House, but I found the occasion—standing on a sunny street corner shooting the breeze with Baltimoreans of all stripes, Jews and non-Jews, old and young, black and white, human and canine——surprisingly emotional and affirming. Where else but Baltimore, Hon?

Posted in jewish museum of maryland