Most of us see the world of historical reenactment—particularly in New England—as a fairly Jew-free zone; somehow we just don’t see our ancestors as having churned butter, at least not on these shores. But in New Hampshire, a “living museum” called Strawbery Banke celebrates the real heritage of its hometown, Puddle Dock, which had a sizable Russian-Jewish immigrant population in the early 20th century. Kosher cook Joan Nathan visited in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and found Barbara Ann Paster—in her role as Yiddish-speaking housewife Shiva Shapiro, a real woman who lived at the time—making honey cakes, stuffed cabbage, and kosher chicken on a coal stove.
Shapiro’s meal and preparation are as historically accurate as possible to the year she’s living in, 1919, which means a menu based on local ingredients supplemented with things like kale and parsnips, grown by immigrants who smuggled seeds into the country. Surprisingly, the meat wasn’t a problem, as the town boasted, Paster says, “two kosher butchers with delivery: Jacob Segal in a horse and buggy and Harry Liberson, who came here from an advertisement looking for a butcher in The Jewish Messenger out of New York and has stayed for 65 years.”
Shapiro’s great-niece Elaine Krasker, 82, a former Democratic state legislator, has donated most of her forebears’ property to the museum, but she also kept a few things: “I put the scrub board up on the wall in my laundry room,” she said, “to remind me how hard life was … and how much easier it is today.” If you want to be reminded of the same, now you know where to go. Or, of course, you can just count your blessing on the way to Whole Foods.
Rosh Hashana, Circa 1919 [NYT]