Last week, Gil Marks passed away at the untimely age of 62. He was a legendary food writer, known not only for his recipes, but for his contribution to our understanding of Jewish food. He did extensive research on the details of recipes, their cultural connections, and place in history. Because I trained as an anthropologist, his ethnological approach to Jewish food made him by far my favorite cookbook author.
His most famous books are The World of Jewish Cooking, Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World and Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. That final title is my absolute favorite cookbook of all time. It actually makes fun reading even if you make not one recipe. Marks also wrote extensively for periodicals, such as Emunah Magazine.
Twenty years ago, most people thought of latkes, kugel, kishke, and borsht when they referred to “Jewish Food.” Marks changed that and became among those who popularized Sephardic and Mizrachi cuisine. He described the origins of many dishes, and even explained mysteries of the Jewish food world such as why Polish challah and gefilte fish are so sweet, why people use so many different things for karpas on the seder plate, and how come eggplants became so closely associated with Jews that they were used by the Inquisition to accuse someone of being a converso.
Gil Marks taught me how to make majedra (I’d eaten it before, but didn’t have a recipe) and plov (which my husband grew up eating, but I’d never even heard of before our marriage). Both are staples in the Klempner home. I made this simple, yet delicious apple kugel in his honor this past Shabbos, after hearing of his death. He should be remembered as a blessing.