Baking Challah and Learning New Bread Recipes During Quarantine

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Italian-Irish-American
Age: 20
Occupation: USC Student (Mechanical Engineering) and Technology Assistant at USC
Residence: 2715 Portland St Los Angeles CA 90007
Date of Performance/Collection: 2/8/21
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

The speaker would bake bread and then leave it uncovered in the apartment’s shared kitchen area. Slowly, bits of Challah would disappear from the loaf.

My friend baked a lot of bread after the USC autumn semester ended, and the kitchen filled with bagels, pretzels, pizza, focaccia and Challah. I especially liked the Challah, which maintained a doughy taste after baking. I liked the bread because it was dense. My friend topped his Challah with salt, poppy seeds and sesame seeds. He has made Challah three times so far, and every time the braided bread recipe tastes different.

*

The speaker first started baking Challah because he liked how it looked, and he was high the first time he made the recipe. Challah is a Jewish bread, but the speaker does not come from a Jewish heritage. “I’m not Jewish at all. I went to… 15 years of Catholic school. People always mistake me for being Jewish. On the street in New York City.  Because, I don’t know. I’m kind of like a curly haired kid. I think that’s part of it. But also my high school is next door to like, a bunch of like, Jewish, like elementary and middle schools. There were a lot of like, you know, like practicing Jewish people around that area.”

The speaker went to a Jesuit high school and a Franciscan elementary school. He lived in a community with Dominican friars, but his father is Italian. His mother is half-Irish, He uses a scale to measure ingredients and called Challah a ‘crowd favorite.’ He enjoys learning about folklore and he researched Challah when he first made the bread.

“Turns out you’re supposed to take a little chunk of it and wrap it in tinfoil and just like scorch it. And be like, say ‘this is Challah.’ But in Hebrew culture you’re like, sacrificing a piece sort of. I feel like it’s a little bit like, kinda like pagan. Like, sacrifice. But like yeah, you don’t eat that piece. You burn it until it’s nothing.”

This speaker makes a lot of baked goods at the apartment, including edibles. He sometimes sells his edibles, but he never sold Challah. Over time, he learned to hide the Challah so that tenants did not eat the bread. One time he made the bread so that it was too dense, and fewer tenants ate that particular Challah.

*

I know that the speaker did not like that tenants took his Challah, but I really enjoyed eating this bread, even if I knew it wasn’t mine. When he made the third loaf, I began to leave fruit or other offerings in exchange for the bread I had taken. Even though other people baked food for the apartment, these dishes were usually made for a birthday or special occasion. Challah was made whenever. The speaker did not need an excuse to bake this braided Jewish bread.

I could tell that the speaker was proud of his work. He and others would sometimes ask me to watch over their bread so that no one else would steal it. I would tell them not to trust me- but I’m glad that they asked me to be their bread guardian in any case.

This is similar to the description of Ethnic Groups in chapter 2 of Folk Groups & Folklore Genres by Elliot Oring. In this chapter, the author mentions that some young adults of Jewish heritage make Cholent because it is convenient, not because they observe the Sabbath meal. While this speaker does not share Jewish heritage, he takes part in Jewish traditions via recipes found on the internet.