Monday, June 14, 2010

Classic Italian Jewish Cooking by Edda Servi Machlin 2005

"Machlin’s recipes are an illustration of how a bygone community ate day-to-day." From a review by Jonathan Dixon in Tablet, October 9. 2009.

This cookbook, an updated version of three earlier cookbooks is, of course, worth reading because of its interesting kosher Italian Jewish recipes, many of which have been handed down for generations in Jewish families from the town of Pitigliano in Tuscany.

But another important feature is commentary written by the author, particularly an approximately thirty-page essay called “Pitigliano, the little Jerusalem” that Edda Servi Machlin (who was born in 1926) wrote as part of the introductory material. This essay serves as a tribute to the town where she was raised that she explains had a vibrant, close-knit, highly educated Jewish community. Jews had lived in the town for more than 600 years. She describes what daily life was like when she was growing up, especially the importance of cooking, how and where they got their meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, olive oil and bread. She also has a fascinating description of the communal Passover oven and the baking of matzo.

Additional commentary is included in an Introduction and in introductory material before each chapter and even in the introduction to each recipe. Especially worth noting is the commentary preceding the recipes in the last chapter, Holiday Menus.

 Mussolini’s pact with Hitler ended her idyllic childhood and she details the progressively desperate life of the Jewish community during World War II.  At seventeen she and some of her siblings joined the partisans. At the end of the war her family was reunited, but the town had been heavily bombed, other Jewish families had not survived, and those who did, moved to larger cities for more opportunities. The author’s family moved to Florence. In the post war years Edda Servi Machlin followed her sister to America where they both married Americans. She worked at preserving the legacy of Italian Jewish cuisine by recreating and publishing these treasured recipes.

Note: Edda Servi published a memoir in 1995 called Child of the Ghetto: Coming of Age in Fascist Italy: 1926-1946. It is out of print and not widely available.
To read an article about the Fascists and the Italian Jews written by Benjamin Ivry and published in the blog of the Forward on June 8, 2010 click here.

Solomone Servi – author’s grandfather
Debora Lattes – his wife; author’s grandmother
     Azeglio (Baruch)  Servi  - their son; author’s father
           Edda Servi Machlin – author; husband Gene
           Marcella Siegel – author’s sister
                     David – her son
           Gino Servi – author’s brother; married Metella
                     Mario – her brother
Dante Lattes – grandmother’s cousin

Pitigliano, Tuscany


  1. I have just come back from visiting Pitigliano (rising out of the volcanic rock like something out of a medieval "The Shining." Well worth a visit). Reading Edda Servi Machlin's "Child of the Ghetto" truly enriched my understanding of this ancient town which welcomed Jews fleeing the ghettos of the Papal States, Florence and Siena back in the 1500's. Very different from the bleak history under Mussolini.
    Jonathan Dixon's Tablet column to the contrary, used copies of "Child of the Ghetto" are readily available through

  2. I'm glad you had such a wonderful trip. You're right; Edda Servi Machlin's memoir "Child of the Ghetto" is readily available at Amazon, both used and new, but the publishing house is so small I doubt that many libraries own copies. Toby