Mark Kurlansky’s book Edible Stories (2010) is an indulgence for book-nerds and foodies: It’s a collection of 16 interrelated stories, each named after (and starring) a certain kind of food. Most of the featured cuisine tends to be on the highbrow side (espresso, boudin, crème brûlée), but our favorite is a short story called “Cholent,” about possibly the least gourmet food that exists.
Cholent is a stew of beans, barley, vegetables, meat, and whatever else is lying around the kitchen. It’s a traditional Sabbath food, left to cook on a burner or in a crockpot from Friday afternoon until Saturday lunch.
The characters in Kurlansky’s story are defined by their cholents. One woman should be too upper-class for a bean stew: “For a well-dressed woman, Rifka Sussman certainly knew her beans.” Another is meticulous: “Minnie Mellman cooked the meat and onions and spices in one piece of cloth, vegetables in another, and beans in a third.” With these brief characterizations, you’re thrown headfirst into a Shabbat morning kiddish at a synagogue, where a Jewish senator is about to visit. The confrontation between the rabbi, the Sisterhood president, and the Secret Service agent is worth the price of admission.