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  • Kugels and Collards table spread

Kugels & Collards celebrates Southern, Jewish foodways in South Carolina

Four years ago, Aurora Bell began her job as an acquisitions editor for the University of South Carolina Press, bringing with her expertise in the domain of cookbook editing. At lunch with press colleagues and local partners at Historic Columbia during her first week, the topic of conversation turned to a project Historic Columbia was working on: the Kugels & Collards blog.

Kugels & Collards is run by USC graduates Rachel Gordin Barnett and Lyssa Kligman Harvey. They started the blog as part of their work as founding volunteer members of Historic Columbia’s Jewish Heritage Initiative.

Bell was intrigued. “[South Carolina] is a state where so much of the tourism is driven by food, and we have such a rich food culture,” Bell says. “I was looking out for interesting projects in that space, so that’s why my ears perked up when I heard about the blog.”

Barnett and Harvey, on the other hand, were a bit surprised to hear from Bell. They had started the blog in 2017 with hopes of taking a unique twist to exploring Columbia’s Jewish history through memories of food. “We never thought, when we started this, that it would turn into a book,” says Barnett, executive director of the Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina. “We thought that the blog would be great fun.”

Kugels and Collards book cover

But as the pair got to work on compiling stories, putting together about 60 oral and written histories from families around the state of South Carolina to turn their blog into a book proposal, it became clear that there was potential to do a lot more with the memories they were collecting.

Themes began to emerge, creating a cohesive story around collective experiences that would resonate with Jewish communities even beyond South Carolina: immigration journeys, Jewish-owned businesses, establishment of roots in local Southern communities, memories of mothers and grandmothers, holidays spent around the table and the evolution of the legacy of Jewish culture in the United States. Uniting these themes is a common thread of food and the deeper sensory memories it evokes.

In decades past, the people who cooked in Jewish homes and synagogue kitchens were often African American women and men who brought their culinary talents with them.  They were taught how to adapt Southern recipes to conform to kosher rules.  

“In South Carolina, we’re surrounded by the okra, the beans, the corn, the yams that enslaved people brought to the South. [African American women] taught us how to cook it and how to put it on our table,” Harvey says. “We ate brisket and gefilte fish and matzo ball soup, but we also ate fried chicken and lima beans and deviled eggs.”

With this book, Barnett and Harvey hope to honor the contributions that led to the development of the Southern Jewish table — not a spread of fusion foods but a delightful culinary coexistence of the rich flavors of the South and traditional Jewish meals.  

Bell is excited to be part of exposing a broader range of audiences to these hidden histories. “This is a dual preservation and awareness goal,” she says. “This book is preserving the story of these communities. It’s really important to raise awareness and start those conversations.”

Kugels & Collards is surpassing all these expectations – its blend of archiving personal histories, exploring foodways and sharing family recipes is striking a chord with communities even outside of South Carolina, finding coverage in outlets from Southern Living to Times of Israel. 

The opportunity to turn their blog into a book may have come as a surprise to Barnett and Harvey, but the appeal of these stories does not. “It is really such a delightful way to collect history and stories around food and recipes,” Harvey says. “Family memories can actually be in food. We are preserving our personal history, our community history. It’s a legacy.”


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