The 2021 New Hampshire Jewish Food Festival, a celebration of the Jewish foods that come from recipes handed down from generation to generation, will go down as one of the most successful in its 24-year history.  On Tuesday, June 1st, the Jewish Food Festival opened for online orders on the Temple B’nai Israel website.  As the orders started piling up, the emails and texts were bouncing between food festival committee members who were astounded by the immediate and overwhelming number of orders placed on just the first day.  The ordering process continued until June 28th when the website officially closed after 233 orders were placed.  The success of this year’s Jewish Food Festival has been over the top, with thanks to the Lakes Region community and beyond.

This year, TBI introduced our own “Bubbie†(Yiddish for grandmother) to the Lakes Region with stories of the old country and tongue-in-cheek descriptions of the recipes and cooking processes.   (Click Here to read Bubbie’s Kitchen Adventures.)  As much fun as “Bubbie’s Kitchen Adventures†are to read, the real story behind the scenes in the TBI kitchen is an unfolding drama worthy of its own reality TV show.   Teams of congregation members, women and men, enjoy the camaraderie that naturally results when people come together with a purpose, for a cause.  Each recipe is carefully executed with precise proportions and exact processes in the small temple kitchen.  While the blintzes are frying or the strudels are baking, there are stories shared and world problems solved.  Mahjong helps pass the time as the aromas from the hot oven fill the adjacent social hall, waiting for the timer to ring. Take out one batch and put in the next. After the baking, cooking, or frying is done and the foods are cool enough, they must be packed, labeled and carefully stored in the many freezers which are located in closets, the basement, a wall here and a nook over there.  The location of each food, which freezer it’s in, and how many of every item is strategically noted and managed.  When the time comes to pick the orders for curbside, drive through delivery, there is no question where to find the matzah ball soup, the brisket, or the rugelach.

Before any cooking can begin, there is shopping to be done.  Cooking for a crowd takes on a new meaning when the partial grocery list includes 250 pounds of raw brisket, 80 pounds of russet potatoes, at least 20 pounds each of carrots, celery, and onions, 45 bags of egg noodles, 120 eggs, 30 pints of sour cream, 60 cups of whole milk, and 60 pounds of farmer’s cheese.  A daunting task that is undertaken by several volunteers who shop, schlep, and stock the pantries and refrigerators.

Later this month, the final step of the online order process will happen when the customers arrive at the temple, on the appointed day and time, for curbside pick-up.  The ordering process allowed for appointment requests on specific days and times which has resulted in a carefully mapped out schedule designed for maximum efficiency.  Each order will be picked and packed upon the customer’s arrival then whisked out to the car as the driver proceeds from the check-in door at the back of the building to the pick-up door on the side of the building. 

Then the work for next year begins.  The committee will review the orders, the process, and most importantly the feedback from the patrons. Food Festival committee chair, Stu Needleman says, “it’s always a work in progress.  We look for ways to improve, streamline, and make the experience the best it can be for the customer and our members who volunteer to organize, shop, cook, pack and freeze and finally, to hand out the completed orders to the customer.† 

A blue image of an animal with its head down.

So it goes, year after year, for 24 years now.  Even a pandemic couldn’t stop the Jewish Food Festival which necessitated that it become a “take out†event with curbside pickup.  Next year, 2022, TBI will be celebrating the 25th silver anniversary of the New Hampshire Jewish Food Festival. Look for a special celebration, a nostalgic look back through the years and a few surprises to commemorate this special milestone.