Anglo-Jewish history dates back at least a millennium and it is rife with complex twists and turns that are still debated. There are a few things we know for certain: After being (sort of) welcomed in by Norman and Plantagenet rulers in feudal times, significant persecution of Jews began around the late 12th century. They were branded with yellow stars and taxed extensively. They were expelled altogether in the 13th century in a time of religious fervor under the fury of Blood Libels. From then until 1609, there is historical uncertainty about Jews in England, with reports of a few—such as a crypto-Jew (one who had converted and practiced in secret) serving as physician to Henry VIII. In a twist we certainly didn’t hear about as kids during the telling of the Thanksgiving story, many Puritans were punished for seeming to be “jew-ized” and distinctly pro- Old Testament. The Pilgrim landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620.
But pressure from (mostly Jewish) Spanish and Portuguese traders, the work of Sephardic Dutch Rabbinical leader Menasseh Ben Israel (who advocated for opening of lands closed to Jews), and the practical politics of the English ruler Oliver Cromwell, led to an invitation for Jews to return by 1664. From the Restoration to the Enlightenment and beyond, life became rich for Jews—and not just in London and its environs.
So, for Thanksgiving this year, I decided to take a look at some U.S.–Anglo–Jewish culinary traditions. By and large, English food (notwithstanding Chef Jamie Oliver and Jewish TV chef Nigella Lawson) has always been thought of as bland. Plebeian. And when I lived there, I can tell you that I ate more than my fair share of butter and cucumber sandwiches and egg and chips (aka French fries). The folks at Lutece weren’t worried. But I did have some curious little handheld vegetable pot pies. Those pasties (pronounced PAHS-tees, rhyming with “last” or “past”—not “paste”—with “ease” at the end), were soul warming and easy to eat and carry along.
This little pie is not exactly seen as a Jewish food, no doubt, but it’s a fun—and freezable—meal. Once you get the hang of the dough, you can stuff it with almost any stew—and it’s great for leftovers. Freeze them stuffed but unbaked and you’ve got a treat waiting to happen.
Pasties, by the way, originated in Cornwall, England, and are believed to have been created for miners who worked under harsh conditions for many hours a day and wanted and needed a meal that would be easy to carry and tidy up. Original pasties featured an inedible dough—so tough that it protected the stew. And it only ever, ever contained beef, turnips, potatoes, and onions. This is such a deep-seated traditional food that, I kid you not, there is a Cornish Pasty Association and it sets rules about this little hand pie.
The rules notwithstanding, I’ve come up with a very American version that takes advantage of turkey, dressing and leftover greens. Keep calm and make hand pies.
For more on the fascinating story of Menasseh Ben Israel and England visit http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/111879/jewish/Menasseh-Ben-Israel.htm
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