by Naomi RothbergStep 1 is that you accept that your 18-year-old son has become an observant Jew, left Columbia after his first year, and emigrated to Israel. Step 2 is that you understand that when he returns to New Jersey for Thanksgiving, it will be as a kosher person and, therefore (Step 3) that your kitchen must be kosher.
After that, the number of steps pile on and simultaneously get complicated and elusive. (Do you count the step where you cry, “ MY kitchen!? ARE you KIDDING!?” Or where your husband does a counterpoint with his own lamentations?)
It was very lucky that Macy’s had a sale on stainless steel pot and pan sets, and that the New York Times had just reported that the old aluminum stuff would give us Alzheimers. The reader may assign step numbers to the casting out of all those candidates for Antiques Road Show and the in-gathering of gleaming newness.
To kosher gorgeous, brand new, all-metal pots with all-metal handles, scrub them, fill them with water, and boil until the water boils over. Done. (You can maybe subtract steps for the probability that brand new pots were kosher without need for any effort.) I learned that it would have been impossible to kosher my old pots, with their various wooden or plastic handles, because wood and plastic absorb some of whatever treyf thing has been cooked in them earlier. The acquisition of such learning definitely counts as several steps.
All-metal tableware, serving utensils, and other miscellaneous kitchen necessities, you (you guessed?) scrub, and then throw into the boiling water in the all-metal pots. An old, all-metal stove? Let it stand unused for twenty-four hours, then scrub it and let the stovetop flames (or coils) burn hot, for between fifteen and forty-five minutes (depending on which rabbinical ruling is calling the shots). Oven? Let it stand unused for twenty-four hours (the same twenty-four hours, since you’ve got a Thanksgiving feast to cook), then scrub the racks, scrub the walls, and blast it with heat (some rabbis actually use a blowtorch).
Glasses: You just carry all of them upstairs in three or four or five easy trips, lay them in the bathtub, and run the water over them for three days (Thanksgiving luckily not falling in a drought period). It’s nice for you and your other loved ones to have another place to wash your bodies during this period, but not washing, while a hardship, is not hard.
It wasn’t even hard to get these and other detailed instructions, even though our son was too newly kosher to give them. I had no books on the subject, and the Internet was years away, from my house at least, but we were lucky enough to live in a town with many synagogues (a fact I had not noticed previously), and each had a rabbi, and one of them was willing to talk to me (only one, and only reluctantly — an enduring mystery of kashrut, that reluctance). Also, of course, my mother and aunts were available with instruction, remembering, for example, that you must bury things. They didn’t remember exactly what nor for how long nor where. But since all of their teachings began and ended with “he’s crazy and you’re crazy,” I was required to ignore them. Luckily, the rabbi dismissed the burying. It turned out it to be all the ceramic stuff that would have had to be buried, i.e., every dish and cup, the hoard and treasure extracted from innumerable yard sales over all our married lives. He said we’d better off buying new. (Uh-huh.)
Cover all surfaces with tin foil? Who said it was necessary? Who said it wasn’t? I did it. A great deal of tin foil. Not difficult.
To jump to the only hard part, the hard part of this koshering business was the friends and relatives who kept exclaiming, “You’re totally re-stocking your kitchen?! You’re scrubbing and boiling and burning?! Why is he doing this to you?” This was very difficult, particularly because it turned out we had a larger community of friends and relatives than I would have estimated, and all followed the same script, and none had the wit to vary the tone or content from one time to the next, including the part where they said that they only said all this because they loved all of us so much. On the other hand, if it weren’t for them, I most likely would have raged and ranted my way through all those easy steps, declaiming exactly the words of my family and friends, with plenty of time to embellish and roam into related areas like how difficult it had always been to get him even to take out the garbage. Instead, their performance relieved me totally of that necessity.
(In fact, none of them, my treyf cohort, sophisticated, liberal, well traveled and well read, has ever stopped being blindsided, over the past twenty-seven years, by the information that when kosher people sit down to eat, everything they eat on and everything they put into their mouths has to be kosher, and that it follows that the wonderful prepared delicacies they brought with them to share, even dishes filled with the most organic, fair-traded ingredients, can’t be shared, unless they happen also to be kosher. The rule, friends, is that we have to put kosher food before us before we can all put our napkins on our laps and start expounding on the closed-mindedness of all people not as open-minded as we.)
Whatever other difficulties there were in learning how to kosher a kitchen have vanished from memory. Any silent rants I did engage in are wiped off the tape. On that historic Thanksgiving so long ago, Matthew walked into the kitchen and looked around, and around, and looked at us, and said “Thank you.” 613 steps to pure pleasure. (Matthew also said I needn’t have done the tinfoil thing — but it was so sweetly said.)
And now for a recipe. The usual veggie meals made in kosher pots are kosher. All the usual meat dishes made with kosher meat in kosher pots are kosher. So what unique recipe is attached to this revolution in the kitchen? None, I think. Here’s the huge cholent that my son and his wife make for their family many Friday nights in Jerusalem, to be savored throughout Shabbat.
BOYCOTT BRISKET (from Flip Brophy in memory of Richard Cramer)
Place 5 pound brisket fat side up in a pyrex dish
2 cups ketchup
2 cups water
3 tablespoons dried minced onions
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons jarred horse radish (red or white)
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons salt 1/2 t pepper
Pour mixture over brisket and cover with foil. Bake at 325º for 3 hours. Pour sauce into bowl and cover. Wrap cooked brisket in foil and refrigerate brisket and sauce overnight. Next day, remove fat from brisket and sauce. Slice meat into thin strips and return to baking tray with sauce on top.
Bake, covered for 45 minutes at 350º.
Naomi Rothberg is one of the editors of our “Stirring the Pot” column. She is a former law book writer who lives in Saugerties, New York.