CARMICHAEL -- Gary Weinberg knew exactly what he wanted when he arrived at the Jewish Food Faire Sunday: a pastrami sandwich on rye bread.
“When my wife and son were looking at stuff, I made a beeline for it,” said the 56-year-old Carmichael resident. “It’s hard to go out and have good Jewish food.”
Weinberg was among the 1,500 to 2,000 people who attended the 36th annual food festival at Congregation Beth Shalom, in Carmichael. The event is one of the synagogue’s major fundraisers. This year, it falls on the fourth day of Sukkot, an eight-day Jewish harvest celebration, although the festival is not linked to the holiday. The theme this year was “treasured family recipes.”
Weinberg said he and his family came primarily for the homemade Jewish food, and he even bought two frozen cabbage rolls from the pre-order table to take home. “I love the matzo, I love the desserts, I love everything,” he said.
Festivalgoers had a chance to sample a variety of authentic Jewish dishes, ranging from chopped chicken liver to mandelbrodt, an almond cookie. The fresh cabbage rolls – one of the favorites – were all gone by 1 p.m. The cabbage rolls are the signature dish of Carry Cohn, 91, of Carmichael, one of the founders of Congregation Beth Shalom and the Jewish Food Faire.
But Cohn’s recipe wasn’t passed down from her family in Bavaria. Instead, she got it from a Jewish newspaper in Los Angeles in the 1970s. The ingredients are simple – cabbage, meat, eggs, onion, carrots – but the secret to the dish is the sweet and sour sauce, made of tomatoes and brown sugar.
“I saw it and when I read the ingredients, I could just taste it,” said Cohn, who teaches Hebrew and runs the gift shop at Congregation Beth Shalom.
In years past, she would start making the cabbage rolls two months before the festival. It usually takes about an hour to an hour and half of cooking to make a batch. One year, Cohn said, she made 2,000 rolls for the fair, but usually she only makes half that amount.
Annecia Silver, 80, and her husband, Ed Silver, 85, have been coming to the Jewish Food Faire for about 10 years, drawn by the kugel, a Jewish pudding made with noodles. She calls it “Jewish soul food.”
On Sunday, Ed Silver went for a pastrami sandwich on rye bread. “It’s the best I’ve had in 15 years,” he said, adding that the last time he had a great pastrami sandwich was at Nate ’n’ Al’s Delicatessen and Restaurant in Beverly Hills.
Lisa Breslau of Sacramento came with her 11-year-old daughter, Sophie Breslau. She was another fan of the cabbage rolls, buying four of them to take home, along with a container of the matzo chicken noodle soup.
“They have wonderful food, and we get to see so many of the community here,” she said. “We belong to a different congregation – Mosaic Law Congregation – but this is a wonderful event that Beth Shalom holds every year. It’s a great family event, and we get to share our culture.”
Breslau said she likes the festival because of the variety of Jewish foods available.
“It’s hard to find a variety of traditional foods in one place,” she said. “There are some dishes that you can only get during the holidays – latkes during Hanukkah, and pomegranates for Rosh Hashana – that you can find here.”
Stephanie Gotthardt, 67, of Orangevale came to the festival to support her friend, Mauria Hirning,65, of Folsom, who volunteers at the festival.
“I love the food, and I love the art vendors,” she said, pulling out a bag containing a pair of earrings she bought from jewelry maker Amina Harris, 64, of Davis. “It’s just a nice way to spend the day, support good people and see beautiful things.”
Gotthardt said she usually buys a bag of mandelbrodt to go. “It means ‘hand bread’ – or a Jewish version of biscotti,” she said.
Sunny Romer, 63, of Sacramento also works at Harris’ booth. She has been coming to the Jewish Food Faire for 23 years, and is a member of Congregation B’nai Israel. Romer, who is vegetarian, said she usually has the falafel. She also likes the baked goods, but for her, the food is not the main draw of the festival.
“I come here for the community,” she said. “I get to see friends who I don’t see very often. This is a very special event.”
Call The Bee’s Tillie Fong, (916) 321-1006.