‘The Wimbledon Synagogue Community Cookbook’ features contributions from over 100 members of the Wimbledon Synagogue community. Wimshul Cooks is a group of eight Wimbledon Synagogue enthusiasts that set up a community cooking project in 2012. The aim of the project was to find a way of celebrating the community through the theme of food, cooking and eating by collecting stories, recipes, reflections and advice. Lynne Sidkin shares more about the project.
Where did the idea come from to do this?
For some time Liz and I had mulled over the idea of producing a community cookbook and we finally decided to actually do something about it!
We spoke to a few people who we thought might like to be involved and had our first meeting to which we all brought our various thoughts, ideas and of course home-baked cake ! We held follow-up meetings and it was so exciting to discover that over and above their interest in food, everyone had something special to offer: artistic talent, professional baking, administrative, writing, educative and presentation skills.
Liz agreed to be our editor. However, it was 2 years before the book itself came to fruition and was a culmination of many months’ hard work but immense enjoyment.
What advice would you give to a community who are thinking of starting a similar project?
I think we would advise anyone else considering the idea to take their time as we did. We held honey cake and Pesach baking tastings, organised special kiddudshim for TuBishvat and Shavuot, bagel and hamantaschen workshops.We raised funds to cover the publishing costs by holding a cake sale and evening cookery demonstrations where we made a charge but included supper that had been produced.
Amidst every community there is a wealth of talent to be drawn upon! We pooled our ideas as to who might be prepared to provide a recipe for the book and personally contacted each one, as well as asking for recipes in our shul magazine. We spread our net and asked for example our waitresses and the school cook for their contributions. Our aim was to involve the whole community in our project.
Liz wrote to well-known chefs, asking them if they would submit a recipe, and then once the book was produced, asked for reviews. It takes a long time (including chasing) to gather in the recipes and the collation and indexing of the entries is a major task, in our case carried out by Liz. We timed our publishing of the book near a festival as many purchases were made as presents!
The process of producing the book brought a great ‘buzz’ to the Shul . Our events drew community members of all ages together, perhaps the most memorable day being when the nursery children, senior community members and the rabbis all baked hamantaschen together.
Our events were attended by many people that were not necessarily ‘shul goers’ but wanted some involvement with the synagogue. Often members brought their relations to workshops and demonstrations. Even the local police came in to taste the food we produced. We discovered that asking people to contribute to the book often evoked wonderful memories which they submitted alongside their recipe.
The cookbook can be found in homes up and down the UK and is also enjoyed in far flung destinations. It has been read in hairdressing salons and doctor and dentist waiting rooms! At the moment we have no plans to produce another book but as a group we continue to function and enjoy time together, supporting the community with food on both joyous and sad occasions.
What impact has creating the book had on the community? What kind of feedback have you had?
The feedback has been very complimentary and we are often told when someone has used a recipe from the book, generally with great success! One member is an expert at adapting the sweet recipes for her diabetic husband. We tried to include recipes that covered as many Jewish festivals and occasions as possible and are delighted to hear when the book has proved helpful.
Food and eating has a central part in Jewish life, what role does it have in the life of the synagogue?
Food plays an enormous role in shul life and Wimbledon is no exception! A bowl of soup before a service, chavurah suppers for all generations, the relevant foods at festivals – this is a time to socialise, bond, comfort, meet new people and hopefully encourage prospective members to join.
What does Jewish food mean to you?
For me, Jewish food is about my family traditions. I can still visualise my late Grandpa making chopped liver for Shabbat and decorating it beautifully with grated hard-boiled egg. It was always a military operation making hundreds of latkas with my mother at Chanukah and she taught me how to produce perfectly formed rows of biscuits at Pesach.
What advice would you give people who think they can’t cook?
Anyone can cook – you just need to have all your ingredients set out and then follow the recipe slowly and carefully. Make notes in pencil on your recipe if for example you found the cooking time was slightly different for your own oven. Make sure you have plenty of time, don’t rush or multi-task; you may forget you have a cake in the oven when you start your ironing in another room!
You can find out more and order a copy of the book here. The book costs £18 (or £15 per copy if you order two or more). Proceeds will go to Wimbledon Synagogue and the charities and good causes featured in the book.