By Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder
From kimchi to kombucha, America is craving fermented foods. They are tasty. They are hip. They are healthy. And making fermented foods means connecting with ancient food traditions and with the people who have passed it on for generations.
So it is fitting that “The Pickle Recipe,” a movie about preserving not only cucumbers, but also intergenerational family relationships, is a feature at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.
The film focuses on a dysfunctional family living in a Jewish Detroit that is changing faster than they can keep up.
DJ Joey Miller is barely getting by. His wife left him for a richer man. The bank has taken his house, and all his sound equipment goes up in smoke. His uncle, Morty, who is estranged from his mother and Joey’s grandmother, Rose, offers Joey much-needed cash if Joey can wrangle the recipe for Rose’s pickles.
Despite being quite elderly, Rose works daily at Irv’s Deli, named for her dead husband, and her pickles are famously the best ever made. Curmudgeonly and secretive, Rose has never let anyone watch her make the pickles, let alone shared the recipe. Even the beloved Irv never knew.
The story, though generally predictable, is well acted and sweetly told. It captures well the shifting sense of American Jewish culture. The urban Jewish deli is dated, and a neighborhood that likely was Jewish is now populated by other ethnic groups.
Yet the tastes of the past hold allure in the present. No wedding or bat mitzvah would be complete without pickles, and no pickles are as good as Rose’s.
The challenge of respecting the past and passing on traditions runs as a theme throughout the film, raising questions of legacy — culinary, cultural and religious.