My mother, Rachel Nathan, always makes a batch of matzah pudding for our family each Passover. It reminds me of Passovers past in our childhood home in Hampstead. We often ate it for lunch after coming home from synagogue on the first day of Pesach. To me, it is as symbolic of the festival as the horseradish, only a lot tastier. It is rather like a fruity bread pudding and transforms matzah into a tasty English-style pudding. The recipe was from Florence Greenberg’s book “Jewish Cookery”, first published in the 1930s. My mother’s well-worn copy was the 6th edition published in 1958 and was probably given to her as a wedding present.
In fact, when my mother heard about our cookbook project, she handed me one of her own mother’s cookbooks, Dainty Dinners and Dishes for Jewish Families (3rd edition) published in 1916 during the First World War. It was written by May Henry and Kate Halford.
Turning the pages of the little book was a revelation. It was filled with English dishes, followed by their French names. It was Victorian cuisine with a French outlook and an occasional nod to a Sephardic heritage with the inclusion of a Spanish dish, like bola (a Spanish cake) but no mention of gefilte fish or what we might today consider traditional Jewish fare (in fact, there was a recipe for cold fried fish and “A modern luction”- lokshen pudding – nestled amongst “leg of mutton”, “calf’s foot jelly”, “Empress Pudding” and “creams à la Duchesse Marie”).
It was a moment of revelation because, growing up, I had always been slightly puzzled by my Anglo-Jewish culinary heritage. While others enjoyed chicken soup, fish balls and so on, we would be tucking in to lamb and mint sauce, apple charlotte, meringues filled with whipped cream and a great many steamed puddings. Delicious but not particularly exotic.
My grandmother’s cookbook was of an era when, despite – or because of – the huge influx of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, the Anglo-Jewish community positioned itself as part of the English establishment. Rather like the cookbook, the community found a way of being proudly but discretely Jewish while being very English. It reminded me of my great uncle Alan Mocatta, who, after attending the Shabbat morning service at Lauderdale Road Synagogue in Maida Vale, would stroll over to Lord’s Cricket Ground in St John’s Wood after lunch to watch a cricket match for the afternoon.
Dainty Dinners also has a baked or boiled “Motza Pudding” recipe, very similar to Florence Greenberg’s, with the suggestion to use dripping for the baked version and chopped suet for the boiled version.
Was this cookbook the origin of the tasty Matzah pudding I eat? I decided to consult the seminal Jewish Manual published in 1846 by “a Lady”, thought to be Lady Judith Montefiore, wife of Sir Moses Montefiore and considered the first major Jewish cookbook published in English.
Lady Judith Montefiore
Here was a similar recipe entitled “Passover Pudding”, talking euphemistically of “biscuit crumbs” and with a rather more vague ingredients list and method but unmistakably, Matzah Pudding! Have I reached the source of Matzah pudding, circa 1846?
Below is the Florence Greenberg recipe followed by Judith Montefiore’s recipe.
Florence Greenberg’s Matzah Pudding
- 4oz sultanas or raisins
- 2 matzot
- 3oz margarine (original recipe called for suet)
- 2oz brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons matzah meal
- 2 eggs
- 2oz currants
- ½ teaspoon mixed spice
Topping: a tablespoon of brown sugar
Soak the matzah in a bowl of cold water till it is soft. Then squeeze if very dry with your hands. Put it in a bowl and beat it up into small pieces with a fork. Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Turn into a greased pie dish, sprinkle the top with brown sugar, and bake at 400c (gas mark 5) for about one hour.
A Lady’s Passover Pudding
Mix equal quantities of biscuit powder and shred suet, half the quantity of currants and raisins, a little spice and sugar, with an ounce of candied peels, and five well beaten eggs; make these into a stiff batter, and boil well, and serve with a sweet sauce. This pudding is excellent baked in a pudding tin, it must be turned out when served.
Some modern tips: Serves 4. The dish is easy to prepare and can made in advance. Serve with a dollop of cream, creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream. It freezes well.
Please share your own family recipes and stories about Jewish food.
See also A 1916 Plum Cake, Rich, for Hanucah