Scottish Jewish memoir a cultural and culinary delight

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I thought the entire world was Jewish when I was growing up in Brooklyn. My world was. There was a kosher butcher on every street, and kosher delis and fish markets with live carp and whitefish for my mother’s gefilte fish. The shopkeepers’ names — all Jewish — were written on the storefronts, and even the teachers and principal of the public elementary school I attended were Jewish.

It was a very sheltered and insular environment, one that gave great comfort and peace of mind to the many refugees and recent immigrants from Hitler’s Europe who lived there.

So it is no wonder that I read Ethel Hofman’s “Mackerel at Midnight: Growing Up Jewish on a Remote Scottish Island” with awe.

Here was a very Jewish family that had managed to escape pogroms, living a Jewish life as the only Jews on the Shetland Islands. (Read the book to find out how they got there.) Ethel’s parents were determined to rear the kids with deep pride in their religious heritage, and they succeeded through their loving perseverance.

It is a beautifully written memoir, bearing the indomitable mystical spirit of the human heart. The protagonist is Hofman’s ‘Ma.’ Through her resourcefulness and humor, Ma adapts to her new strange world while her kitchen brings comfort and solace to her family. Hofman makes her culinary heritage come alive with easy-to-follow recipes.

Hollywood could do worse than making this story into an epic film — happy ending, inspiration and all. Interspersed with a fusion of shtetl and Shetland Island recipes, this was one terrific read and cookbook.

“Mackerel at Midnight: Growing Up Jewish on a Remote Scottish Island” by Ethel Hofman (175 pages, Camino Books, $14.95).

Salmon Schnitzel | Serves 4

1 lb. salmon fillet, about 1-inch thick
1 scallion, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 tsp. vinegar
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a small baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Cut salmon into 4 pieces. With a sharp knife cut a pocket in each, almost all the way through. Set aside. In a bowl mix the scallion, mushrooms, parsley and vinegar. Stuff salmon pockets with the mixture. Place on baking pan, skin side up. Brush generously with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake 15 minutes until salmon is opaque and skin is crisp. May finish off under broiler to crisp skin.

Floury Girdle Bannocks | Serves 8

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
pinch salt
1/2-3/4 cup sour milk or buttermilk

The griddle, a cast-iron round disc with a handle, is called a girdle in Shetland.

Preheat griddle over medium-to-high heat. In a bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt. Make a well in center of mixture. Pour in enough sour milk or buttermilk to make a soft dough.

On a floured board roll dough out into a circle about 1/2-inch thick. Cut into 8 wedges. Place on heated griddle. Cook until wedges begin to rise a little and undersides begin to brown. Turn over and cool 3-4 minutes longer. Centers should be dry and slightly chewy. Serve hot with plenty of sweet butter.

Bannocks also may be baked on a lightly floured baking pan in a 400-degree oven.

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Rebecca Ets-Hokin. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected].