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The Brisket That Traveled from Europe to Philadelphia and Back to Stockholm

The Brisket That Traveled from Europe to Philadelphia and Back to Stockholm

Shared by Walter Ferst
Recipe Origins: Germany > Stockholm; Riga, Latvia > Philadelphia

In the late 19th century and just before World War II, when Jews in Eastern Europe started to scatter, recipes were carried with relatives to different corners of the globe. That was the case with Walter Ferst’s family brisket, a simple preparation plugged with garlic and laced with onions that his grandmother made for holidays in Philadelphia.

Unbeknownst to him as a child, the recipe also remained in Europe. While much of the family came to the United States around the turn of the century, a set of cousins stayed in Germany until the mid- to late-1930’s. “They were out for a Sunday picnic when they were accosted by Brown Shirts who roughed them up and turned their car over,” he recalls. “The family righted the car and drove north until they got to Sweden. They never went home, they just drove.”

Living in Israel for a summer in his early 20’s, Walter used a family directory to reach out to a distant cousin Mary Bagg in Stockholm to say he would be in town and would like to meet. “In [the 1970’s], the way you got mail when you traveled in Europe was through American Express,” he says. “Anyone could mail you a letter to their office and they would hold it. When we arrived, they had a letter for me.” Mary insisted that he stay with her and introduced him to another cousin Jorge.

After a day of sailing around Stockholm, drinking Slivovitz to stay warm, Jorge brought them to his mother’s home for dinner. When Walter walked into the house, he recognized the scent coming from the kitchen: his grandmother’s brisket with paprika, onions, and white wine. His grandmother had died eight years earlier. “You have to picture being a 21-year-old kid living out of his backpack and he sits down to this meal and it’s the same one his grandmother made for him as a kid. I can remember it vividly.”

The brisket recipe is still the one that graces the Ferst family table on cold nights, particularly on Hanukkah, but it suits the Rosh Hashanah table as well.

*A version of this recipe first appeared in The Forward.

Kauffman/Ferst Family Braised Brisket


Serves: 12 to 15
Time: 4 hours, plus 20 minutes resting time

One 7 to 8 pound whole brisket, flat and deckle attached
14 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1½ teaspoons Hungarian or sweet paprika
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
4 medium (2½ pounds) sweet onions, cut crosswise into thick slices
3 cups dry white wine
1½ cups water

Large roasting pan
Wooden toothpicks

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Rinse the brisket and trim any excessive hanging pieces of fat, leaving the majority in tact for cooking. Make 14 small ½-inch incisions in the brisket and insert a whole clove of garlic into each.
2. Season both sides of the brisket with the salt, paprika and pepper, then place in the center of a large roasting pan, fat side up. Pin whole slices of onion to the meat with toothpick to completely cover the brisket, scattering the remaining slices around the brisket.
3. Mix the water and wine together and pour over the brisket. Cover the pan tightly with foil.
4. Cook until the meat is tender when pierced with a fork 3 to 3½ hours, then remove the foil and continue to cook for 45 minutes, basting with liquid every 10 minutes.
4. Let the meat rest for at least 20 minutes and remove toothpicks before carving and serving with the pan juices.

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