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photo by Rhonda Spivak. View from Austrian Hospice, Old City of Jerusalem


June 5, 2017



For the 50th anniversary of  the re-unification of Jeruslaem, I thought I would publish the recipes used by Mark Twain , the famed author of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer ,   when he visited Jaffa and Jerusalem in 1902. The American author had very set dining habits, and had no interest in trying new dishes, which made things somewhat tough for him. He wanted his meals to be "American" not Middle Eastern, and was not open to the exotic flavours of the HolyLand.  

Twain had dinner with a group of Bedouins, whose ate with their fingers, and  wrote a letter to a friend saying “I do not concur with those members of our party who feel that eating with the fingers is barbaric, but when the food set before me is unrecognizable in taste, texture and flavor, life assumes a level of complexity that is most trying indeed.”

In the Holy Land Twain tasted herbs and spices such as cardamom and coriander but complained that he  felt “an incredible longing for a plate heaped high with flapjacks, covered with rich, creamy butter and immersed in a shining pool of maple syrup.” When the  author was given a leg of lamb prepared with rosemary, mint and tarragon, his reaction was “I think I would have preferred grasshoppers.”

Twain, noted that coffee was a key ingredient to life  in Jerusalem and the Middle East writing that “the people here drink coffee on awakening and then continue drinking coffee through the entire day. No discussion can be held, no business transacted and no friends can meet without the presence of coffee. With the Good Lord as my witness, they even serve coffee at their funerals.” 

Twain did in fact find several dishes that “were pleasing, not at all alien, and much to my taste,” and the recipes for these popular items are set out below.

Lamb Soup

1 ½ lb. (675 gr.) stewing lamb, cut into 2” (5 cm) cubes

2 zucchini squash

2 medium tomatoes

3 Tbsp. olive oil

6 spring onions, chopped coarsely

2-3 cloves garlic, chopped

½ tsp. each black pepper, salt and turmeric

¼ tsp. caraway seed

pinch saffron


Place all the ingredients in a heavy kettle and stir together gently. Pour over 6 cups of boiling water or stock and cook, covered, over a low flame until the meat is tender (about 2 hours). Skim the surface occasionally during the cooking process. After the meat is tender remove and discard the tomatoes. Serve hot, dividing the meat and vegetables equally. (Serves 6.)

Bean Cakes

1 lb. (450 gr.) pea beans or chickpeas

1 Tbsp. salt

¼ cup parsley, minced

2 Tbsp. onion, minced

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbsp. flour

2 eggs, beaten lightly

olive or corn oil for frying


Soak the beans overnight in cold water. Drain, cover with cold water, add the salt, and simmer until the beans are done but still firm (about 45 minutes). Drain, reserving the water.


Mix the beans together with the parsley, onion and garlic, and puree through a strainer, adding just enough of the reserved water to prevent sticking. Bled the flour together with the eggs and blend these onto the bean mixture.


In a heavy skillet heat about 1” (2 ½ cm) of the oil and into this drop the mixture by heaping tablespoonfuls. Fry, turning occasionally until both sides are golden and crusty. Drain on paper towelling and serve hot as an appetizer, side dish or snack. (Serves 6-8).


Eggs with Yoghurt

1 cup yoghurt

1 clove garlic, minced

salt to taste

1 Tbsp. vinegar

1 tsp. hot paprika

pepper to taste


In a small mixing bowl combine the yoghurt, garlic and salt to taste. Divide the mixture into 4 ovenproof ramekins and place in a slow oven to heat through.


In boiling water to which the vinegar has been added, poach the eggs. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon and place an egg in each ramekin. Sprinkle over with salt and pepper to taste and return to the oven for 5-6 minutes.


In a small skillet melt the butter. Stir in the paprika and distribute the butter over the eggs. Serve immediately. (Serves 4.)

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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