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Rural Jewish Cooking

Albert Weil with child and cow

Albert Weil, a dealer in animals for slaughter in Zurich in 1910. The roots of his family lie in the Surbtal area of Switzerland. He works in the meat trade in the prospering city.
© Florence Guggenheim Archiv c/o Dr. Ralph Weingarten

Rural Jewish cuisine has been influenced by religious dietary law and the recipes of the Jews' Gentile neighbors. In addition to presenting a variety of recipes from southern Germany and Switzerland, this story charts the development of rural Jewry and describes the daily life of traveling merchants.

After their expulsion from the cities, over the course of the fifteenth century many Jews sought refuge in the countryside. They worked as peddlers, selling ribbons, buttons, fabrics and other wares that could easily be transported door-to-door.

hametz fire

Before Pessah the house is searched for leavened products (hametz). All hametz is then burned. The picture shows a hametz fire in Baisingen, Württemberg in the 1920s.
© Dr. Fredy Kahn

Others traded cattle or horses. They spent much of their time on the road. So that they could comply with Jewish dietary laws, their meals in Christian inns were limited to boiled eggs and raw vegetables.

The dishes prepared in the kosher kitchens of their homes on Shabbat were all the richer and meatier. Many old original recipes, including some from the Bloch family’s cookbook, give an impression of these festive meals.

Special dishes are always served on the holidays. This is particularly true for Pessah, during which period the flight from Egypt is commemorated so that no leavened goods may be eaten, or even stored in the house.

The excerpts from Peter Neumann’s documentary film "Die Schweizer Judendörfer" (The Swiss Jewish Villages) presented in the story offer a glimpse at rural Jewish life today.

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