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Cherish your food memories - but don't be afraid to adapt

Features | Published:

That's the message from home cook Anne Shooter, who has just published her second book. She talks to Ella Walker about her recipes' family roots and how Jewish food is changing.

Anne Shooter: ‘All my friends are working mums, so a lot of this food doesn’t take very long to make’

ANNE Shooter’s cookbook career was triggered by her having to dress up as Nigella Lawson for a feature, ‘which was hideously embarrassing – I had to wear loads of control underwear and a wig’, the former journalist recalls.

Shooter ended up bumping into the real Nigella at a party (‘She was fabulous’) and thought to herself: ‘If I was Nigella, maybe I’d write a Jewish cookbook next.’

Having trained at Leiths Cookery School, she was already considering setting up her own pickle company and had noticed a real revival in newish-Jewish food (‘People were starting to do slightly trendier things with old-school Jewish recipes, like putting wasabi in their cream cheese’). So her next logical thought was, of course, ‘Hang on, I could write that book!’

Cherish is her second cookbook, following her 2015 debut, Sesame & Spice, but this is the one her 12- and 14-year-old daughters wanted her to write – so they’d have all their mum’s recipes on file when the grow into adults with their own kitchens.

‘It’s the kind of food I cook all the time,’ says Shooter, flicking through pages of crisp chicken thighs baked with walnuts and pomegranate, roasted aubergines drizzled with tahini, and fried pitta pockets bursting with lamb mince. ‘It’s just really nice, homely food – some of it isn’t even particularly Jewish.’

Shooter’s own childhood food memories are largely of spending time at her maternal grandparents’ house in Elm Park, on the Essex/East End borders, very much eating traditional Jewish food. ‘My grandma was amazing and could do anything with a chicken,’ she remembers. ‘The house always smelt of chicken soup, and she’d mince the livers by hand.’

Her granddad ran a kosher chicken shop, or poulterers, where live chickens clucked away out the back until they were slaughtered, plucked and brought straight through to customers – some of whom were rather well known, including the Krays (there was once a misunderstanding over a chicken), and actress Miriam Margolyes, who’d trade theatre tickets for wurst, a beef salami.

Shooter’s paternal grandmother, meanwhile, taught her to make calf’s foot jelly, ‘a really old school Ashkenazy delicacy’ that she hasn’t made since but says was delicious. ‘I don’t know if you can buy a calf’s foot now – let alone a kosher one.’

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Traditionally, Jewish families were Ashkenazy – Eastern European Jewish, whose foods include bagels, cheesecake, salt beef and chicken soup; or Sephardic – more Middle Eastern and Spanish, with food that’s packed with herbs, spices, tahini and Mediterranean flavours.

Shooter’s own style of cooking, reflected in Cherish (don’t expect any calves’ feet), is ‘more of a mish-mash’, especially when it comes to her family’s traditional Friday night dinner – where having 15 people round the table is ‘quite standard’.

‘It’s noisy, warm, there’s lots of chat, lots of eating – there’s always a lot of talk of diets within Jewish community, and I think that’s possibly because we have Christmas dinner pretty much every week,’ she says with a laugh.

While Shooter will still start Friday night dinner with the same appetisers as her mum – grated hard-boiled eggs bound together with chopped spring onion and mayonnaise, and a coarse pate of chopped chicken livers – she’ll also do hummus, an aubergine salad and some tabbouleh salad. A roast chicken might come out doused in pomegranate molasses or paprika too – but, she promises, ‘without it feeling like a Seventies buffet’.

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The jumbling of flavours from Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewish origins, Shooter reckons, is in part down to tastes changing and the availability of ingredients evolving, but also due to the fact the traditional role of the Jewish matriarch is different now.

‘All my friends are working mums, so a lot of this food doesn’t take very long to make and doesn’t insist on everything being made from scratch,’ says the food writer, who was the first woman in her family to go to university, and have a career and raise a family. ‘I do love a shortcut. I might buy a pre-diced butternut squash, and I’ll buy jars of passata that have a sofrito in it already.

‘You don’t generally get me bashing a pomegranate – I buy those seeds in a pot, thank you very much.’

  • Cherish: Food To Make For The People You Love by Anne Shooter, photography by Emma Lee, is published by Headline.

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