What role did Jews living in colonial America play during the Revolutionary War? And what did they eat? I’ve wondered about these questions for some time, and with Independence Day coming up I decided to look for the answers.
According to a variety of sources, among the 200,000 colonists were 2,000 to 2,500 Jews, mostly Sephardic but some Ashkenazi. About 600 Jewish men, including officers and medical staff, served with the Continental Army and associated militias. Charleston, S.C., was the site of the greatest concentration of Jews in the country and fielded one militia company composed mostly of Jews. Jewish businessmen helped finance the war effort.
I had less success finding out what Revolutionary War–era Jews ate. If I had to make an educated guess, I’d say most likely they adapted to local cuisine and made do with wartime food shortages, like everyone else.
Two typical dishes of the era are pit-roasted meat and succotash. My Revisionist Succotash is lighter than its starchy ancestor. I’ve taken the meat indoors and turned it into Oven BBQ Brisket. Enjoy them on the Fourth of July, or anytime.
16 oz. bag frozen baby lima beans or shelled edamame
3 medium ears of corn
2 Tbs. oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large red pepper, chopped
1/4 tsp. salt or to taste
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. dried ground mint
1/4 tsp. cayenne powder
hot sauce, optional
Cook beans as per package directions until tender but still a bit crisp in the middle. Drain. Cut kernels off corn cobs. Heat oil in large fry pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, sauté until beginning to soften. Add garlic, sauté until golden. Add red pepper, sauté until beginning to soften. Add cooked beans, sauté for a minute. Add corn kernels and salt, pepper, mint and cayenne. Sauté until beans and corn are cooked through but not mushy. Taste and correct seasoning. Add hot sauce as desired and stir.
Oven BBQ Brisket
4-5 lb. beef brisket
BBQ rub spice mix (see below)
1 Tbs. oil
3/4 cup barbecue sauce (see notes), plus extra for serving
3/4 cup apple juice
1/8 tsp. liquid smoke, optional (see notes)
Trim fat from brisket, leaving at least a 1/4-inch cap of fat on top. Score fat cap with a sharp knife. Rub spice mix all over, coating meat. Place beef in dish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. Take out of refrigerator 1 hour before cooking.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil over medium-high heat in large, ovenproof pan. Brown brisket well on all sides. Cover with lid and transfer to oven. Cook covered, turning meat over about every 20-30 minutes until meat is tender but not falling apart soft, about 3-4 hours, but it can take longer. Take pan from oven and put on stove top. Remove meat from pan and let stand 20 minutes then slice into 1⁄4-inch slices against the grain. Heat pan on stove with cooking juices to simmer, add 3⁄4 cup barbecue sauce and apple juice. Bring to simmer. Scrape up browned bits at the bottom of pan. Stir in liquid smoke if using. Gently stir in meat and simmer, uncovered, until meat is well saturated. Serve meat with cooking sauce and/or barbecue sauce.
BBQ Rub: Mix 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. smoked or regular paprika, 1 tsp. ground black pepper, 1/2 tsp. ground cumin, 1/2 tsp. cayenne powder, 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, 1/2 tsp. onion powder and 2 Tbs. brown sugar. Store extra in airtight container.
Notes: Use homemade or purchased barbecue sauce. Choose one with a smoky or hickory flavor. For a stronger smoke flavor add optional liquid smoke.
Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. Her columns alternate with those of Josie A.G. Shapiro. Faith blogs about her food at www.clickblogappetit.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.