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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

The Sisterhood of The Moosewood Cookbooks

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

My copies of The Moosewood Cookbook and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest were gently put to rest this year after gracing kitchen after kitchen for more than forty years.

Their covers were barely attached, their binding dried and damaged and their tattered pages splattered  with chocolate, oil and a variety of fingerprints. I murmured a word of thanks to these precious companions before parting with them. Still on my kitchen shelves are a variety of other Moosewood cookbooks, their cover art still inviting me to open them and look through recipes.

Cookbook archaeologists could date those fingerprints that marked my cookbooks. Fingerprint #1 from 1977, while I was a student trying vegetarianism on for size. Other fingerprints dated back to the time when I was a newlywed and trying on cooking vegetarian food for my husband. Other fingerprints were marked on recipes where I experimented with inviting people to our home for Shabbat lunch. Each fingerprint held some meaning and marked family history in oil, tomato sauce, garlic and chocolate. Those two cookbooks marked a path paved with broccoli, to grow out of young adulthood and onto motherhood and grandparenthood.

Over the years I would wait for new Moosewood cookbooks to be published. I would bring them home, lay them on the kitchen table and do one of my favorite things, perusing vegetarian recipes. Although I didn’t actually cook all of the recipes in my Moosewood collection, I would enjoy poring over the books, leaving bookmarks on recipes I wanted to try and leaving fingerprints, not realizing that I would someday look back at them as messy markers of time.

Before holidays and Shabbat I would sit with my cookbook, opening hopefully to the dessert chapters and then proceeding to the soups, salads, breads and then to any entree that was filled with cheese. I loved the cooking notes and appreciated especially that the recipes were not only creative, but touched upon the varied cuisines of the world, so that I, a Jewish suburban mom, could get a taste of cultures far from my home. That was indeed a delight.

Time flew quickly from meal to meal, from Shabbat to Shabbat and holiday to holiday. The children grew older and my Moosewood cookbook collection grew. Holidays were marked by warm family gatherings and eventually we reached the age of searching for recipes on the internet.  It became so simple to search for recipes online and experiencing the instant gratification of 100 recipes for brownies or kugel or split  pea soup that popped up on the screen. Still though, in advance of holidays, no matter how many recipes I could get on online cooking sites, I always returned to leaf through the Moosewood series. They were as comfortable as old pajamas and a cup of tea with lemon.

* ~ **

We had the opportunity this past week to travel to the Finger Lake region of New York state. Weeks in advance I already knew that visiting the Moosewood Restaurant was on the very top of my list of places to visit. I made reservations weeks in advance and made sure to arrive promptly. As we drove to Ithaca I closed my eyes and imagined Moosewood as I always had; a small and homey restaurant with Mollie Katzen's delightful writing and food designs on the wall announcing the menu.

We arrived with time to spare and took photos of the Moosewood sign above the door. In my excitement I quickly texted the photos to old friends and asked if they still owned their Moosewood cookbooks. Each friend responded with the same excitement, as though I was asking them about one of their favorite possessions. Their responses only made me more excited to finally, finally sit and eat at Moosewood.

We sat down, still the only customers, and ordered lunch from the menu. As I would have expected, the food was delicious. The flavors were excellent, the food was fresh and served beautifully. The joy of being there was equalled by the food, the beverages and the brownies. But it was during the meal that something magical occurred. We sat on the front patio and slowly watched as the outdoor seating was filled by other women my age, give or take a few years. We observed as women passed the restaurant with their families and took quick photos in front of the Moosewood sign. The woman sitting at the next table told us that she had stopped specially in Ithaca to make a pilgrimage to Moosewood. Our waiter's mother, from the midwest, still had the cookbooks sitting on her shelves.

Here we gathered, the United Sisterhood of the Moosewood Cookbooks. Without even asking these women with graying hair, I knew that each of them had those same stained and fingerprinted Moosewood cookbooks on the shelves in their kitchens. They were women who lived in cities, in suburbia and the country. They didn't know each other, but they one thing in common. They were all women who grew into adulthood with the Moosewood cookbooks on their kitchen tables. Perhaps their original copy was in a dorm room, or a small and cluttered apartment. Perhaps their copy was lent to friends and family. This cookbook had also guided them into maturity, as my copies had guided me. Somehow I understood that those cookbooks were a rite of passage, helping women go from youth to adulthood, from being fed to feeding others, to finding new and creative ways to think about food.

What a mark of honor a fingerprint on a cookbook page can be. Mollie Katzen, her cookbooks and the cookbooks published by the Moosewood Collective have probably accumulated millions of fingerprints over the course of her illustrious career. Fingerprints, stained and marked up pages, along with broken bindings and missing pages on cookbooks are the highest honor a cookbook could possibly have. I am so proud to be one of those fingerprints and I am so proud to be of the generation of the Sisterhood of the Moosewood Cookbooks.

Here's a toast to the art of reading cookbooks, of trying new recipes, of feeding others and of the huge and wonderful variety in vegetarian cooking. And here is a final toast to the joy of sitting and reading cookbooks in your pajamas with a cup of tea at the kitchen table.



If you have a Moosewood Cookbook story, please share it here, or feel free to email me. I'd love to hear your story!

Please see the articles below to learn more about The Moosewood Restaurant and Mollie Katzen.

Cookbooks written by Mollie Katzen.

Cookbooks by the Moosewood Collective:

About the Moosewood Restaurant

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