Sunday, January 6, 2008

By Your Cholent You Will be Known

Recently I assigned a group project to some of my classes. They were to choose from a list I gave out and write and illustrate a set of "perfect" instructions for whichever topic they chose. One group of boys chose "cholent." They had never made cholent before, although all had eaten various cholents, and so some research was going to be necessary. (Just a note: some believe that the word "cholent" comes to us from the French "chaud," meaning hot; others believe that it comes from the Yiddish "shul ende," the end of shul, when the dish would be served.)

The group was rather imaginative and decided to do a video presentation of their instructions, showing the cholent making process. It was a good video. They loved the cholent they made. Marking the video was easy; deciding how I felt about the cholent they produced was not.

There is no universal Jewish recipe for cholent. There are, however, some demarcations that make it easy to tell the lineage of the cholent maker.The major differentiator is the lowly potato. Put potatoes into the cholent and you mark yourself as Polish/litvish. Put prunes into the cholent and you mark yourself as Polish/litvish.

Hungarian cholent begins with marrow bones and flanken. Add in selected beans-- red, white and speckled--and barley. Salt, paprika, plenty of chopped fresh onion and lots and lots of garlic. Then add in a "g'kneitenim kigel"--a kneaded kugel reminiscent of the inside of kishka--baked in the cholent.

There has arisen a type of cholent that can only be called "American cholent." Among the flavorings I have seen put in are ketchup, tomato sauce, beer, hot sauce and yes, even jalapeno peppers. Into these cholents are also put turkey or chicken meat.

Some cholents are made--on purpose--the consistency of two-day old cement. Others are watery enough to need to be eaten with a soup spoon in a bowl. Some cholents spend a "mere" 16-18 hours being cooked; some spend 24-30 hours being cooked.

While most cholents utilize some combination of beans and barley as their "thickening" ingredients, there are other variations. One person told me she makes her cholent only from barley. Another uses chick peas instead of beans. Still another adds in lentils. Another woman makes a shabbos cholent using rice. (Note: I have made this kind of dish for a Shabbos lunch but Austro-Hungarians call it a rice paprikash, not a cholent.)

Even Pesach has its varieties of cholents. All share in common a combination of meat and potatoes. Some are stew-like; some are kugel and meat combinations.

There are any number of Western European variations that go by the name of cholent and even a Syrian version--baked eggs (hamindas).

Every group defends its cholent as being the best, as being the "cholent of cholents." Housewives have been known to protect their cholent recipes as if they were gold buillion, passing them on only to close family members. A balabusta's reputation can be made or broken based on her skill in cholent making. Husbands have been known to go so far as to brag about their wives's cholents. Arguments have ensued as to who really is the best cholent maker.

So yes, I was faced with a dilemma when I viewed my students' video of cholent making instructions. Oh so clearly the cholent they created was Polish in origin. It pierced my very Hungarian cholent heart. The group got an "A" on their project. It won't grace my table however. I'm not looking for my ancestresses to be turning over in their graves at the perfidy of their descendant. And I'm not looking for shalom bayis issues at this stage of my life. You heard it from me: what cooks in those cholent pots can be the difference between a contented and a discontented husband.

Forget Victoria's Secret ladies; the real secret lies with a handful of beans and barley.

30 comments:

anonymously said...

You forgot to mention that men can become addicted to cholent. The eat it friday night after dinner as desert, sometime in the middle of the night if they wake up as a snack, shabbos by lunch and have the leftovers for a snack shabbos night. If I want cholent for the rest of us I have to use an extra large cooker to make it. And of course no potatoes.

tuvi said...

No potatos in the chulent? Weren't there potatoes in Hungary? Could leave out the beans and the barley and I would really be happy.

leahle said...

My father and his brothers married wives from three very different places. When we have a family get together over shabbos you have to see the war that erupts over which woman is going to make the cholent. And it's not the women who are doing the fighting. It's the men!

Anonymous said...

Is it against some halacha somewhere if I admit I can't stand cholent?

Anonymous said...

Not sure about the halacha but it's definetely one of the al chaits-"bdibur peh."

Anonymous said...

Prunes in the cholent? Please tell me that was a joke!

ProfK said...

Anonymous,
Had I not eaten a cholent with prunes in it myself I,too, would have thought it impossible. The family is a very well known one from Galitzia and all of the wives add in prunes. They don't add in any meat. I can only guess that meat must have been in short supply in the location they originate from and prunes were plentiful. And I was served that cholent by other hostesses as well. I guess you can't argue taste.

yerachmiel said...

Cholent is a weapon that someone should tell the government about. You eat it and it tastes great and then shabbos afternoon it starts attacking you. Maybe they could do a movie and call it Revenge of the Beans.

nowaynever said...

I guess soon they will add the what kind of cholent do you make question to the shidduch questionaires. No nuttier then all the other ones. So is it better for shidduchim to put in the potatoes or leave them out?

jewtoo said...

Not for nothing that there are some places I only accept invitations for friday night dinner and some only for shabbos lunch. You taste the cholent once and you know whether to go back again for lunch.I like the people but this is cholent you are talking about.

jewtoo said...

Oops sorry. nowaynever, leave out the potatoes for a top shidduch.

Anonymous said...

Sorry noway but he is wrong. Put in the potato. Everyone knows the top boys in Lakewood insist on potato in the cholent.

Anonymous said...

Your male students did a cooking video? Does their rosh yeshiva know? Not exactly up there with things they want the bochrim to know how to do.

justaguy said...

Come on, cholent over Victorias secret? Must be a hungarian thing like chandeliers in the bathroom.

chaya said...

My hubby says it was my mother's cholent that decided him to ask me to marry him. I'm not always so sure that he is just kidding when he says this. And we are not a potato in the cholent house.

Anonymous said...

Nowaynever, if there is a machlokes, ask daas Torah. I think that most Flatbush ravs will paskin in favor of potatos. Meal Mart follows a different shita since they don't put in the potatos.

Anonymous said...

Of course cholent is important in shidduchim! You have any idea how many cholent meals he is going to have to eat over the years of marriage? And plese only redt me girls who are potatoe minded.

(ls) said...

leave it to us jews to make a war over something like cholent. Can't we ever agree on anything?

Anonymous said...

Best cholents in the world are made by the shtible rebbetzins. Ours gives kiddush on rosh chodosh and the shul is packed. They also make the best potato kugels in the world.

Anonymous said...

have had cholent a lot of different ways and I'll eat them all. If I get to choose I'll take the one without the potatoes. Leaves more room for meat in the cholent that way.

yudit said...

Maybe shadchanim should be giving guys cholent samples instead of showing them pictures. My grandmother says that the way to a man's heart is through his stomache so this would probably work better then the way we do things now.

I'm flexible on the potatoes if someone really doesn't want them. I guess I'm modern potato machmir.

anonymously said...

I love it! Going to try it on the next shadchan that makes me crazy trying to put the right label on my kids. Want to bet she writes down modern potato machmir on her form?

Anonymous said...

Cholent with the potatos tastes fine when it's fresh but the one without is much better as leftovers. And there better be leftovers.

Anonymous said...

But what if your family doesn't have a cholent recipe (long story) just how are you supposed to find the best recipe? Someone help please.

Anonymous said...

My crock pot broke a few weeks ago close to shabbos and I didn't have time to get a new one. I bought ready made cholent for shabbos. Should have seen the looks on my family's faces. Everyone took one bite and then left the cholent on the plates. Cholent is serious business and substitutes for the real thing aren't welcome. How serious? My husband went out on sunday and bought me two crockpots so just in case one breaks again there is always a backup.

Yossi said...

People put turkey ihn cholent? Would be grounds for divorce in this house.

Anonymous said...

Problem is even worse if you have a mixed marriage. His family is litvish and mine is hungarian. I put in a potato for my husband but I always feel like I'm fartreifing my pot.

Anonymous said...

Think I have the strangest cholent story. A woman at work was complaining that she has so much to do over the weekend and there is never any time to cook a meal for Saturday lunch when all her kids come to visit. She knows I'm frum and in another conversation I must have mentioned that we don't do work on shabbos like cooking. She asked me how I possibly serve a hot meal if we can't cook. Anyway, I gave her my cholent recipe and she made it for the next weekend and her kids loved it. Now she makes it all the time. And if it counts that protestant family likes it with the potatoes in it.

Dave the Philosopher said...

As far as the etymology of Chulent, I think both theories are implausible. "Chaud" doesn't even sound like chulent, and I can see no evident transformation rule that will get you from one to the other - And "shul ende" is completely absurd and not worthy of attention. Observe - people who go to "shool" pronounce it "chuhlent" and people who pronounce it "choolent" go to "sheel"

The most likely etymology is, again through the French "chalant" - as in non-chalant which means cool, "not hot"- which in turn comes from the Latin "calere" as in calorie, the unit of heat.

ProfK said...

I suppose this comment is better late than never. Dave, it can be both pronunciation and spelling that contribute to how a word morphs over time, particularly across different languages. The ch/sh/sch dipthong gives us many different pronunciations across time and across borders, and there is a frequent interchange. It is quite plausible that the "sh" in shul changed to the "ch" in cholent. It is quite possible that the original pronunciation of the word was "shulendt." It is such changes that have English speakers saying "knight," beginning with an "n" sound, when other Germanic language families still pronounce the word with a hard "k." We retain the "ght" spelling and don't pronounce anything but the "t" whereas other Germanic language speakers have gone from the original "k-nig-he-teh" to "k-nicht," all orginating from "koenig," the king.