The kitchen of Lydia Inghram's College Greens home smells of sweetness and spice, all thanks to a recipe card near a bowl of freshly boiled pasta.
Inghram is whipping up a batch of noodle kugel, a baked Jewish dish that can be made in a sweet or savory style and is a year-round favorite.
Inghram has plenty more baking to do. Some of her kugel, made with a secret family recipe, will be among the offerings at Sunday's Jewish Food Faire. She'll also be on the cooking assembly line at Congregation Beth Shalom's kitchen, with plenty of cabbage rolls and other favorites needed to be made in advance of Sunday's festival.
"Part of Jewish cooking is tasting as you go," said Inghram, co-chairwoman of the festival, while giving her kugel a quick taste test. "This festival makes people aware of our food, and it's our contribution to the community and we have a lot of fun."
In its 35th year, the Jewish Food Faire at Congregation Beth Shalom in Carmichael is expected to draw approximately 1,000 attendees. Like the way Sacramento's Japanese American population celebrates with an annual bazaar in August, and the Greek Food Festival each Labor Day weekend, the Jewish Food Faire ranks among Sacramento's signature cultural events.
Matzo ball soup, blintzes from Bubbie's Love Bistro in Citrus Heights, Jewish rye breads, knishes plenty of eats will be available.
"We look at it as a way to come together through Jewish food," said Sheila Wolfe, who co-chairs the festival with Inghram. "You don't have to be Jewish to enjoy it. I mean, who doesn't love a good pickle?"
The Jewish Food Faire traditionally falls during Sukkot, sometimes known as the Feast of Booths. This weeklong observance follows Yom Kippur each year and is something like a Jewish Thanksgiving. Sukkot honors the fall harvest and also commemorates the 40 years during which the Jewish people traveled through the Sinai Desert following the exodus from Egypt.
During harvest season in ancient Israel, huts called sukkot in the plural form were built at the edge of fields. These kinds of huts also provided temporary shade and shelter in the desert. Building and eating in a temporary sukkah are part of this holiday's traditions.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are commonly eaten during the Sukkot holiday, but unlike other Jewish observances, this holiday isn't associated with a specific food. Stuffed vegetables, such as the cabbages known as holishkes, are sometimes eaten to symbolize a bountiful harvest.
Jewish cooking encompasses a world of flavors. Eastern European Jews are known for bringing plenty of fried onions, tongue and the chicken fat known as schmaltz to the table. Sephardic Jews from Spain, the Middle East and elsewhere brought olive oil, lamb and fish into their cooking.
Basically, wherever Jewish populations have settled around the world, new sets of regional influences have been explored in Jewish cooking.
That even includes Sacramento, which is the hometown of Marlena Spieler. She's a McClatchy High School graduate who also wrote "Jewish Cooking," a signature Jewish cookbook. She remembers when the local Jewish heritage was mostly eastern European, and wolfing down some of the mouthwatering desserts she'd eat at bar mitzvahs and other celebrations.
"They'd have these lovely cookies that would just melt in your mouth, covered in powdered sugar or filled with jam," said Spieler. "Ah, I'd just get as many as I could. Those ladies were great bakers, and they made these fantastic traditional Ashkenazi foods."
"In the last 20 to 30 years there's been an influx of Sephardic Jews, and Israelis and Persians, and they bring so much deliciousness," Spieler added. "They bring spiciness, and lots of herbs like cilantro and chilies, turmeric, cumin and paprika."
Inghram's sweet kugel is a one-pot dish she likes to serve for brunch. The prep time doesn't take much: Boil some noodles, and in a bowl combine eggs, sugar, cottage cheese, raisins and a few other ingredients.
Pour it into a pan, bake for about an hour, and you've got a tasty, casserole-like dish. Savory versions might include carrot, zucchini or potato.
"It should have brown tips," said Inghram, about the slight caramelizing on a finished kugel. "If it's too light it won't taste the same, and it won't be as firm. But it's easy to make for last- minute company."
While volunteers will make much of the Jewish Food Faire's edibles, they'll also get help from some key food purveyors. Canter's Deli in Los Angeles will supply a range of fresh breads, including the egg bread known as challah and two types of rye. A pumpernickel-raisin bread is being made by Canter's Deli specifically for this festival.
"It's dense, almost like a dessert," said Inghram.
Also for sale will be hard and soft salamis from Katz's Deli in New York City, along with local baked goods from Roseville's Rustic Grains.
And what would a Jewish food festival be without some old-school goodness, chopped liver? Sunday's event will actually feature two kinds of chopped liver, including one made with schmaltz. The original recipe comes from Marvin Freedman, a longtime figurehead of the Jewish Food Faire and former president of Congregation Beth Shalom who died in January. This chopped liver is available only by pre-order. (See the accompanying box for information.)
Chopped liver traditionally calls for rendered chicken fat in its mix of organ meat, plus spices and other ingredients. But over time, as folks have become more health conscious, vegetable or olive oil has become a popular substitute for schmaltz. But on Sunday, the schmaltz will be back in the mix for "Marvin Freedman's Famous Chopped Liver," though a version for more "modern day" diets will be for sale, too.
For those who want to feast on Freedman's chopped liver throughout the year, Inghram said, it can be frozen for up to a year.
"When you defrost it, make sure to mix it well," said Inghram. "If it's dried out a little, add a little corn or canola oil."
Other signature foods at the festival include pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, latkes with a batter mix that comes from Saul's Deli in Berkeley, and homemade rugelach, a Jewish pastry.
In the end, it all tastes like camaraderie.
"It's our biggest fundraiser, but it's also a community-building event," said Wolfe. "My favorite moment is when we're all together, all the synagogues, and sharing some mazto balls."
CONGREGATION BETH SHALOM'S JEWISH FOOD FAIRE
In its 35th year, Congregation Beth Shalom hosts its annual festival of Jewish foods and culture. Goods from some of the country's leading Jewish food purveyors and homemade items will all be featured.
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: 4746 El Camino Ave., Sacramento
INFO: (916) 485-4478; some items can be pre-ordered through http://foodfaire.cbshalom.org