Miriam’s Kitchen is a lovely memoir — and also a bit of a cookbook — about a Jewish woman from a very secular, not particularly observant Jewish family, who begins to explore her relationship to Jewish traditions around food. Ultimately, Ehrlich pursues the experiment of keeping a kosher kitchen, which leads not just to a lifestyle change for her family but to changes in the way she thinks about being Jewish. A journey that begins with learning recipes from her mother-in-law, Miriam, leads Ehrlich back through her childhood memories and her family’s history, and forward to the point where she finds herself immersing in a traditional mikveh for ritual purification after her period.
The point of Miriam’s Kitchen is, I think, to explore how practice can inform faith. We Christians tedn to think of shaping our behavior around our beliefs — i.e., we believe Jesus was the Son of God, and so we do this and that and the other religious practice. It’s a common generalization to say that Judaism is more concerned with right practice than right belief, and like many generalizations that misses a lot of nuances, but Miriam’s Kitchen shows how practice can be the starting point at least for one woman. By the end of the book, belief in God is still kind of an open question for Ehrlich, but her connection to her Jewish religion and heritage has been deepened on many levels, starting with the simple act of learning her mother-in-law’s recipes.
Miriam’s Kitchen is beautifully written and a joy to read. I highly recommend it.