The history of Jewish food in Northamptonshire

Don Rainbow has written a book entitled 'A Taste of Jewish Northampton'.
Don Rainbow has written a book entitled 'A Taste of Jewish Northampton'.

It’s not every day I am given tea and cake at an interview, but when I visited the Northampton home of Daphne Rudd that is exactly what I was given.

To be more precise, the cake was her deliciously spiced date loaf, just one of a host of recipes included by Daphne – and others – in a new book published to celebrate 125 years of the Northampton Hebrew Congregation.

The book, A Taste of Jewish Northampton, has been compiled by Donald Rainbow and includes fascinating details about the town’s Jewish past as well as a little about the histories of some of the local families and plenty of either traditional foods or foods made in a way that is appropriate to Jewish people.

Daphne, who is the chairman of the 125 Anniversary Committee, is in very good company within the book as recipes have also been contributed by the likes of Prime Minister David Cameron, celebrity chefs Ken Hom and Gregg Wallace, Northampton MPs Brian Binley and Michael Ellis, and members of the local community.

While the Prime Minister submitted his favourite recipe for spicy smoked mackerel pate, Gregg Wallace offered up his recipe for matzo ball soup.

Daphne said: “The committee sat down and discussed how we would celebrate our 125th anniversary and someone said, ‘why don’t we have a cookery book?’ Marcus Roberts (local expert in Jewish history) said ‘why don’t we put some history into it?’ It went from there.”

She continued: “We even wrote to David Cameron on Downing Street. Most people, like David Cameron, will all know Jewish people and have probably eaten in their houses. A lot of the recipes are not traditional Jewish recipes but they are cooked in a way to make them kosher.”

Marcus has even included a passage on 13th century Jewish recipes. He wrote: “We are very fortunate to know in some detail about the kinds of food eaten by Jews in medieval Northampton and even one sublime recipe. This discovery arose from the association of Northampton with Eilijah of London, one of the most illustrious English Jews of the Middle Ages.”

He continued: “The favourite dishes included fruit tarts, to which there was no objection even if they were made by Gentiles, as well as pies (pastides), meat-cakes (rissoliez) and special cakes made for un-weaned children. Plums, pears, quinces and peaches were familiar. Cooking was done in large ovens, presenting special conditions from the point of view of the dietary laws.”

There are strict Jewish dietary laws even today which have become popularly known, although are arguably still not commonplace in Northamptonshire restaurants. Food that can be consumed is called kosher and the rules prohibit the consumption of certain unclean animals, such as pork, and mixtures of milk and meat.

Daphne explained that many of the recipes in the book are well known, traditionally Jewish foods.

She said: “The matzo ball soup is chicken soup, they are like chicken dumplings. Chicken soup is known as kosher and people will drink chicken soup all year around, it is a cure for all ills.”

The books cost £10 and are available by logging on to Half of the profits go to the Cynthia Spencer Hospice.