Thursday, September 2, 2010

On Museums, Integrity and Honey Cake

A blog by curator Karen Falk.

A month ago we sat in a staff meeting and learned that we would all become bloggers. Blogging will commence, we were told, the first of September. We passed a hat holding slips of paper with due dates; I drew 9/1.

Great. First post? What am I going to do?!?

So 9/1 has arrived and I’m typing madly (no, wait, that’s wrong; I’m madly deleting). What’s a curator to write? Since my life is consumed by our developing exhibition project, Chosen Food: Cuisine, Culture, and American Jewish Identity—due to open a short year from now—it is top of mind. Of course, we are also opening the traveling exhibit, A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People, tomorrow night (actually, as of posting, tonight!). That’s pretty much top of mind, too, but it’s installed and ready to go and someone else can write about the opening in a day or two. Chosen Food, it is.

What to write about....perhaps the exhibition opening?

Coincidentally, we are also launching a website landing page and blog for the Chosen Food exhibit right now. We have begun with a guest-post by Amina Harris, the proprietor of Z Specialty Foods in Woodland, California. Amina sent us her recipe for a light honey cake (light in flavor and color, not in calories!) in honor of Rosh Hashanah. You can read her post and find her recipe here (link).

We’ve been planning the Chosen Food blog and website for a long time, but readying a first post made me think in a new and different way about what it means to go public. What are the responsibilities of a museum’s blog? As a museum, we are bound to offer information and interpretation that has a deep integrity. On our blog, we hope to entertain, but our responsibility to accuracy, inclusiveness, balance persists.

Our first post includes a recipe. The recipe specifies a very particular brand of honey. So I started to wonder: do we need to test the recipe before posting it? Does the honey need to be certified kosher? What circumstances could render honey either kosher or not kosher? Suddenly, I had some work to do.
Jewbee or not Jewbee...

It turns out that the kashrus of honey is an interesting case. As a rule, non-kosher animals produce non-kosher products. That’s why chicken eggs are kosher but ostrich eggs are not. Honey is an exception, because it comes from nectar that is transported and modified by bees, but not produced by them. Thus, pure and natural honey is kosher, but some manufacturers add ingredients that are not, and the kosher consumer learns to look for the logo of a certifying body. A simple and straightforward explanation of this matter can be found here. A thorough exploration of the issues can be found on the Star-K website.

Honey...causing quite a buzz!

For the record, the honey offered by Z Specialty Food is natural and kosher, certified by the va’ad of Los Angeles. And also for the record, the cake was indeed yummy, but would have been even better if I had made it with the more flavorful honey Amina suggested. (And by the way, I also tried a pareve version using margarine and Whole Soy & Co. plain yogurt—certified kosher and pareve—in place of the sour cream that turned out surprisingly good.) Will we post recipes that tell an interesting story and are in all other ways appropriate to the Chosen Food exhibit—but are treyfe (not kosher)? Well, our team has something to discuss. Will we test all future recipes? Maybe only if it’s for cookies….

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