A Raspberry Jam Torte from a vintage Jewish cookbook
A Treasure for My Daughter is no relic to sit on a shelf but a resource for a new generation of cooks
Cookbooks published today have as much a place on our coffee tables as they do in our kitchens, with their glossy pages, beautiful photography, stories about dishes' histories and detailed instructions on how to make them.
But sharing the cookbook shelf with them are beloved volumes that are their complete opposite — the kind with soft covers, spiral bindings, sparing explanations and (gasp!) no photos.
In Montreal's Jewish community, that book is the 1950 classic A Treasure for My Daughter. Currently in its 14th printing, it’s published by the Canadian Hadassah-WIZO, a Jewish women-led cultural and community services organization. Book sales help raise money for the group’s work with women and children in Canada and Israel.
The member-submitted recipes are a reflection of Montreal Jewish cuisine of the ’50s — traditional Eastern European recipes for gefilte fish, chopped liver and cold beet borscht alongside Canadian delicacies of the day like roast duck with orange sauce and cranberry aspic. Seventy years later, it’s an object of nostalgia and affection in the Montreal Jewish community and a valuable archive of classic Ashkenazi recipes.
“It's still got every single staple recipe that you need,” said Sydney Warshaw, the great-granddaughter of book co-editor Anne Warshaw and also my partner in founding the Wandering Chew, a Jewish culinary heritage not-for-profit. The book was where the Warshaw family turned if they needed to recreate a traditional dish but didn’t already have a family recipe. “It’s got a recipe for challah … for matzo ball soup, for borscht. It has several recipes for borscht,” she said.
The cookbook — edited by Bessie Batist, with Warshaw, Sarah Ein and Mary Davids helping select recipes — was created as a resource for newly married young women. After its publication, the editors contacted mothers and mothers-in-law of brides-to-be, suggesting they buy this cookbook as a gift.
“This volume has been written for the purpose of answering the questions of our young Jewish homemakers,” Batist wrote in the preface, “who, in their desire to observe the Jewish traditions, often find themselves uncertain of the details in carrying out these practices.”
Each section of the cookbook begins with a fictional conversation between a young woman named Hadassah and her mother. A conversation about the Sabbath begins with Hadassah asking about the gefilte fish her mother is preparing. "Yes, Hadassah," her mother replies. "Tomorrow is Friday, when every Jewish homemaker prepares for the Sabbath. Soon you will be a homemaker yourself, and you will be busy preparing for the Sabbath and other holidays.”
This dialogue between mother and daughter set A Treasure for My Daughter apart from other cookbooks of the time and is part of the reason it has remained popular for so long, said Nathalie Cooke, a culinary historian and a professor at McGill University in Montreal. “It gives us a narrative that is very endearing and makes us read it as well as cook from it,” she said.
Cooke also noted that the period around the book's publication, so soon after the end of the Second World War, was a particularly difficult time for Jewish families. “The notion of lineage, tradition and continuity were both fraught and treasured,” she said. “This book showcases the importance of continuity and tradition, but it provides us with a relatively low-stake way of establishing that tradition.”
With Passover approaching, I’ve opened my copy of A Treasure for My Daughter to add the Raspberry Jam Torte to my holiday menu.
As a food historian, I love to collect and read through old Jewish cookbooks — to learn about the cooking of a specific period and wonder at some of the more unusual recipes — however, I don’t usually cook from them. But I want to know cookbooks like A Treasure for My Daughter from a practical perspective as well as a theoretical one.
There’s also a personal reason. Having converted to Judaism, cooking from A Treasure for My Daughter makes me feel connected to a long line of Jewish cooks, as though I’m making family recipes that have been passed down to me.
The Raspberry Jam Torte is a cake that gets its rise from whipped egg whites that are mixed with cake meal, and egg yolks that have been beaten with sugar. It’s flavoured with lemon zest and raspberry jam or jelly. The result is a light cake that is just the right amount of sweet, making it a great ending to a holiday meal — or a treat for any time of day.
It’s a timeless recipe and just one reason that A Treasure for My Daughter shouldn’t be seen as a relic. It’s an important collection of classic Ashkenazi recipes from Montreal that can remain a resource to new generations of cooks who want to keep exploring and engaging with Jewish food.
Make the Raspberry Jam Torte for your own Passover celebrations as a way to pay tribute to the legacy of the women who put this iconic Montreal Jewish cookbook together — and bring a taste of the not-so-distant past to your holiday table.
Notes about baking the cake:
The original recipe calls for baking the cake for one hour at 325 F. However, since my oven runs hot, I baked it for 45 minutes. I suggest using an oven thermometer or checking in on your cake a bit earlier to ensure a perfect bake.
Another liberty I took was to add the raspberry jam as a swirl that decorates the top of the cake, which I thought looked nice and allowed the jam to really stand out.
Raspberry Jam Torte
- 8 eggs, separated
- 1½ cups sugar
- Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp raspberry jam or jelly (melted, if stiff)
- ¼ cup crushed walnuts
- 1 cup cake meal, or ½ cup cake meal and ½ cup potato flour
- ¼ tsp salt
Beat egg yolks and sugar together until light. Add lemon juice and rind, jam or jelly, half the walnuts and the cake meal. Separately beat egg whites until stiff, adding salt. Fold into batter. Line bottom of 9-inch square cake pan with waxed paper, add batter, sprinkle remaining nuts over top. Bake in a 325° F oven for 1 hour.
Note: If preferred, instead of adding jam or jelly to the batter, place half the batter in pan, add layer of jam or jelly, then remaining batter, with crushed nuts over top.
From A Treasure for My Daughter, 14th edition. Copyright © 1950, edited by Bessie Batist. Excerpted by permission of Canadian Hadassah-WIZO. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Kat Romanow is a Jewish food historian, recipe writer and informal educator. She is the co-founder of The Wandering Chew, a women-led not-for-profit that shares the diversity of Jewish stories through food. She has a master’s degree in Judaic studies and food studies, and she created a Jewish food walking tour in Montreal. She is passionate about using food as a medium to teach people about Jewish culture and history. Follow her on Instagram at @wanderingchew.