In 2006, six Australian Jewish women gathered to cook together and share recipes and stories about their diverse backgrounds. This was when The Monday Morning Cooking Club was born. Their goal was to serve almost as a living community cookbook: to find the best recipes from the best Jewish cooks in Australia, and, as they describe it, a sisterhood was formed along the way. With two cookbooks under their belt and a third released this month called It’s Always About the Food, I was thrilled to catch up with Merelyn Frank Chalmers and Lisa Goldberg from The Monday Morning Cooking Club.
Make sure to check out their beautiful recipe for mini honey cakes!
The Monday Morning Cooking Club is a such a diverse group of Jewish women – what commonalities do you bring to celebrating holidays? Differences?
Merelyn: No matter how religious or spiritual we are as individuals, we all love celebrating the Jewish festivals surrounded by family and friends and a dinner table groaning with food! We spend days planning our menus; old Jewish food or new? Traditional dishes or modern Israeli? Personally I always have one or two traditional Ashkenazi dishes but my holy-day table is mainly modern Middle Eastern and North African food.
Lisa: I call myself a traditionalist and love to make the same dishes for each festival year after year. But every so often I will try something new and add it to my repertoire to become part of the new tradition going forward.
Jewish and Israeli food seems to be enjoying a moment globally. What is most exciting to you about Jewish food right now? How has the club played a role?
Merelyn: Jewish and Israeli food is having a very long-overdue renaissance thanks to restaurants like Ottolenghi, Honey and Co and Zahav. Monday Morning Cooking Club showcases the best of home cooking from Jewish cooks around the world. Our recipes are not just Jewish, Israeli or Middle Eastern. We have an incredibly diverse collection of recipes (and stories). Through our books, we celebrate food and culture from many parts of the world, including Eastern Europe, the United States, Italy, Wales, Australia and South Africa. We are sharing with the world a snapshot of our global food-obsessed community.
What’s your favorite thing to serve for Rosh Hashanah or favorite tradition to share with your families?
Merelyn: I have always created a quite modern table for Rosh Hashanah with a few traditional Ashkenazi foods thrown in, but now every recipe I make comes from one of our three books! This year I will be serving homemade challah with added dried apples and raisins, carrot tzimmes and Rosh Hashanah Yemenite lamb, roasted pumpkin salad, baked apples and honey cake for dessert — and baby honey cakes to give as gifts.
Lisa: My Rosh Hashanah table doesn’t really change from year to year. We will always have my mum’s calf brisket and ulnyik (Polish potato cake) with my Aunty Myrna’s tzimmes alongside. I try to bake small quarter or half-size honey cakes for my friends (when time allows!) and I use the same recipe I have used for decades —- the very same one that appears in our first book and website as Gina’s Hair-Raising Honey Cake.
What was different or most exciting about writing your latest It’s Always About the Food?
Our third book, It’s Always About The Food takes our search for amazing Jewish home cooks global. The world has become a smaller place, but our task felt enormous while we spent months and months contacting community organizations around the world and waiting for their response. Then when we heard about a fabulous cook, we had to hope and pray they wanted to share their recipe with us, that we weren’t given a repeat from our first two books, and that we could recreate it accurately. We feel so connected to many communities around the world through writing this book and now know people in places where we did not even know Jewish communities exist. We have have found like-minded people who all have the same goal — to preserve recipes from the past generation for us, and from our generation for the future.
What can we expect next from the club?
We are currently researching the fourth book in the Monday Morning Cooking Club series, which will be all sweet! So please give a shout-out to all your readers to send us their most treasured sweet recipes. We’re looking for that cake, biscuit, dessert or slice that their friends and family are always asking them to make. That recipe that everyone asks for! They can contact us through the website, mondaymorningcookingclub.com.au. and submit their recipes here https://mondaymorningcookingclub.com.au/mmcc-sweet/