I was a refugee from Brooklyn to Baldwin. Jewels pinned in the skirt hemmed, we ran to the burbs.
I loved potatoes but cringed at the barren, potato landscape of the South Shore of Long Island. Probably trying to get away, I quickly became a roamer. Even then, when the fences weren't yet dividing the quarter-acre plots, and the lawns hadn't yet turned into sod, I roamed. I was the original wandering Jew, my mother liked to say.
It was on a July afternoon when I walked into Rosie's kitchen, G-d knows why. She was a stranger. I was unbidden. I was also four-years old.
She offered me an apple.
I asked her if it was kosher.
She, another red-head, but a pig and shrimp eater, became my mother's best friend.
We were kosher, I mean really kosher. The chickens were salted and bled. My mother burned the very last feather off the bird flesh. I can still summon up that devilish, sulfurous smell. Everything came from the blood-smeared-aproned kosher butcher who shuttered from mid-afternoon on Friday night , after making sure everyone took home their cholent meat, wrapped in white paper.
We weren't rich, we only had seven sets of dishes and flatware. Two sets each of meat and dairy dishes (fancy and casual) and then there were the Passover dishes, dairy and meat (for meat, fancy and casual).
As a little girl I had to wait three hours after I ate meat to spoon down ice cream. When I was twelve that blossomed into an intolerable six-hour wait until I was able to head for the Breyer's after onion smothered roast beef. Always being a dairy Queen, this might have been one reason I turned my back on meat.
Back in that day, there were two forces that creeped into the 1960's Yid world.
Pizza! There was kosher pizza, on Avenue J! Oh there was a G-d! And then there were Kosher Jews who went out for Chinese on Sunday night. (sacre bleu!). Wait! They kept kosher at home? What?
Shumlke Bernstein's on Essex wasn't good enough? There really were circumcised and shuckling Jews who needed their pork the way my brother needed Cel-Ray.
Were these people...."Kosher?" They weren't even reformed, maybe conservadox? They went to shul with a mechitzah. The world was coming to an end.
At the same time the rush of Hungarian Jews flooded the country. The sales of sheitels became big business. These immigrants they also birthed the concept of Glatt Kosher-- ultra-kosher became the standard bearer. Regular Kosher was not good enough. Regular Kosher was traif. (Hmm..hard core sulfur vs. sulfur at will, perhaps?)
There are regs, however. Kosher fish? Must have fins and scales...Both! No either or.
A Kosher animal must both chew its cud and have a cloven hoof. Both! No either or.
What about fowl? Can't scavenge.
Turkey, which can be carnivorous, is debatable.
What about sturgeon or swordfish before it loses its scales? Gray zone.
This does bring us back to Natural wine and the definition and the San Francisco Natty wine week that was?
The gray zone. But how gray is gray? Dove gray? Battleship gray? Storm swirling gray? Do you eat turkey or do you swallow letter of the law? Wine isn't religion, yet there should be parameters to what is in the realm of the natural world. While it starts with viticulture, it does not end there.
Scales and fins, cud and hoof. Three or six hours? One is in the Torah one is debated in the Talmud and the oral tradition, yet there is the kernal of truth and there is the heart. Some people still think I'm kosher, hell no. My brain is kosher, my history is kosher but I am not kosher even if I don't eat pork and shellfish.
I know I've lost you. Sorry. That's what my first serious English prof told me, your writing is a mixed blessing, you might now always know where you're going but.....
My last post was about Natural Wine Week in SF. From the looks of the comments, you'd never know that I'd been privy to quite a few conversations with winemakers, journalists and drinkers over their dismay of certain winemakers being included, you know, Chinese food on Sunday night Jew/winemakers.
You'd never know that just about everyone I talked to asked me not to use their name, but agreed that some winemakers slipped through the holes.
Who were the they? Bloggers and journalists with friends. Winemakers afraid to lose their place on wine lists. People encouraging me to speak up, because that's what I do. And I imagine it is perceived I have nothing to lose. But when I think of it, I must have some sort of masochistic streak that leaves me in the role of the whipping post girl. I'm not claiming victim, but you know, a little support would be great.
I feel alone. (As an old lover once told me, you are born alone and you die alone---this was never a comfort.) On the other hand, if you eat pork on sunday nights, you are not kosher. And, as a good friend of mine says, sucking in a cigarette he is trying to stop, "Oh, well."
You might feel kosher, but you're not.
And if you yeast your wine (at the least) and over sulfur and acidify (in the least) you are not natural. Even if you want to. Even if that's where your heart lies.
But here is what I love. I love the debate about what is natural and what isn't. When in the history of wine has this happened? I believe this kind of dialogue (and please, yes, a dialogue) will ultimately lead to a real Golden Age of winemaking.
The fights that spring out around the topic are thrilling.
In my interior life I'm still the Yeshiva Girl I had been. True, always a rebellious one. The one who cut classes, ran into the city, read Bukowski and waited for just the right time to bust out.
Last week, in San Francisco, thanks to the efforts of Ian Becker and Wolfgang Weber and the stores and restaurants who participated, there was something thrilling going on. Proof was evidence that the taste and the wild side of winemakers on the edge provoke drinkers, tasters and the curious show up.