ChallahCrumbs: Tell us a bit about your books.
June Hersh: My first book, Recipes Remembered, a Celebration of Survival has two very definite components. In its heart it is a cookbook and its soul it is a storybook.
In association with the Museum of Jewish Heritage- A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, I interviewed over 80 Holocaust survivors and their family members. I lovingly recreated their cherished recipes and retold their remarkable stories. The book has amazing photos from before the war and historical artifacts from the Museum’s collection. The Kosher Carnivore is a creative and innovative collection of really good recipes that happen to be kosher. It is filled with yummy food and wonderful tips and techniques for buying and preparing the best kosher meat and poultry. It is really designed as a primer for anyone from the kosher clueless to the kosher committed.
CC: What inspired you to write these cookbooks?
JH: Having been in my family lighting business for more than two decades, I was at a crossroads and had a rare opportunity to pursue a new direction and find a new passion. My sister commented that we had done well and now it was time to do good. That motivated me to find a path that would be meaningful, fulfilling and fun. I felt that if I could combine my love for cooking and writing with my respect for the Museum of Jewish Heritage, then I would be on the right track. Recipes Remembered was the result. Once I was bitten by the cookbook bug, I found myself creating new recipes daily. The challenge of turning a standard dish into something stellar excited me. I had also learned so much about kosher meat and poultry after writing my first cookbook, that I couldn’t wait to share that information with others. The Kosher Carnivore was born.
CC: How did you get started as a writer?
JH: I have always loved writing. As a high school student I was the editor of my school paper. In college at The University of Pennsylvania, I worked for their well-regarded daily. After graduation, I taught elementary school but continued writing throughout for local magazines and educational journals. I always dreamed of writing a book; but I never thought I would have two books released within four months of each other. It is really so rewarding rediscovering your passion at a new and interesting stage of life.
CC: The profits of your books go to charity. How did you come to that decision?
JH: That was easy. I go back to what my sister said and realized I was in an enviable position of being able to dedicate my time and energy to philanthropic causes. As a result, I now write cookbooks with a charitable flavor. For Recipes Remembered, the proceeds, which are now in excess of $130,000, naturally went to the Museum. For The Kosher Carnivore, I researched a number of charities that dealt with hunger here in America and I felt Mazon- a Jewish response to hunger- should be the recipient of a share of those proceeds. I tell everyone who considers buying one of my books that it is the perfect way to eat well and do good.
CC: What are some of your favorite cookbooks?
JH: I love cookbooks and cannot wait to get my hands on the newest release. When learning and writing about kosher food, I turned to Joan Nathan’s Jewish Cooking in America, Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food, as well as the series by Susie Fishbein, and so many others. I display David Waltuck’s Chanterelle cookbook for its glorious photos, turn to the Joy of Cooking for quick checks on timing and simple basic recipes, and have always been a fan of The Silver Palate and The NY Times cookbooks.
CC: What are you working on now?
JH: I developed a concept for what I hope will become a series of books called Simple, Simpler, Simplest. My current publisher, St. Martin’s Press is seriously considering the project and I am hoping to get a green light very soon. It is a unique concept where I take one central ingredient and present three versions of recipes with varying levels of difficulty. Simple preps are for the proficient cook and combine advanced technique and exotic ingredients. The simpler version is designed for the typical home cook and demystifies some procedures and calls on more straightforward ingredients. The Simplest recipe is aimed at the beginner cook and takes nothing for granted with preparation or ingredients. The book’s approach is designed to help home cooks find, develop and flex their culinary muscles, no matter what level they begin at. The charitable aspect was an easy choice. ALL proceeds will benefit The Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia and Parkinsons’s Research Foundation. My daughter has dystonia and she will be the food stylist and photographer on the project. I am very excited to begin this next book and create a wide range of fabulous recipes.
CC: Who are some of your favorite chefs?
JH: My favorite chefs are the ones who last prepared an amazing meal for me. That could be my husband when he makes his signature spaghetti and meat sauce on a day that I am too pooped to pop. It can be my dad who prepares a velvety zucchini soup for Shabbat dinner. Or, I can fall prey to the newest, trendiest chef from those at a west village eatery to the ones who cook without much fanfare at my local UES restaurant. I admire those who really get in the kitchen like David Burke- who is writing a foreword for my next book-, Daniel Boulud who is a genuinely nice and charitable chef and Gale Gand or Michele Bernstein who can do it all.
CC: Can you tell us one of your favorite recipes from your cookbooks?
JH: From Recipes Remembered, I am a big fan of the BBQ brisket and lentil soup. I make both regularly. I love most of the baked goods; they are iconic Jewish classics. I find I relate to the recipes so personally as I know the people who served them to their families for decades. As for The Kosher Carnivore, there are many pages with hints of drool. I don’t think anything compares to a perfect standing rib roast with horseradish cream and creamy mashed potatoes and creamed spinach- and yes even thought the word cream appears in each dish- they are all Pareve- no butter, no cream, no kidding. The Peach and ginger glazed chicken is sublime, the Moroccan lamb shanks sumptuous and the roasted duck the perfect bite.