When we first conceived of the idea of a biblical cookbook, the question fast arose concerning its potential audience. Who would find a book of recipes based on biblical meals of interest? Women's groups at churches or synagogues? Bible enthusiasts? Cooking classes or clubs? Adult study programs? We soon found a more than willing audience in the bible class participants of the parish we both attend.
For the first meal we presented, we invited nearly thirty people to our home for a dinner that took all day to prepare. We photographed every ingredient that was part of the menu, and just prior to serving, with placards set in front of each dish to be sampled, we took photos of the entire spread. The dining table, covered by a 19th-century paisley remnant, boasted exotic-sounding dishes surrounded by burning Israeli oil amphorae and 1st-century coins. The initial impression was as we had hoped, and our invited audience oohed and aahed. Little did they know what a chore we had undertaken for hours prior to their arrival!
The baking of the bread was our greatest challenge in that the recipe, though tasty, did not result in what we thought should be the desired outcome. We kept asking each other, “Is this what it is supposed to look like?” After all, we had created the recipe in our heads, based on others' and our own research. Finally, on the third try, we felt we had gotten it right. And boy did we get it right! It was so delicious when hot and served with sheep's milk cheese that our invitees were content (spurred on with a little red wine) to make the bread and cheese the entire meal. By the time we served the shish kebab, most everyone was so stuffed that few were interested in eating another bite. But they did anyway. Clearly, the hit of the evening had been the wheatberry soup; requests came in for days by e-mail and phone for that recipe. We were very pleased at the group's response, so we planned our next chapter and set the date to cook another meal. And another. And another.
It didn't take long before we realized that it was not good for the two of us to be doing all the cooking, if our intended market were church groups, women's groups, cooking clubs, and so forth. So after we had finished our fourth chapter, we distributed the recipes to the members of the bible class at our church with the suggestion that they try their hand at preparing the meals we had conceived and bring them to class. We named the event a “Potluck Biblical Supper” and allowed folks to choose what they wanted to make. (We made one of everything ourselves, just in case there were no-shows come dinnertime.) The resulting meal was nothing short of spectacular. We quickly learned that each cook made his or her own adaptations, all of which were quite acceptable to taste and appearance, with the exception of one baker who used a bread machine where the recipe specifically advised otherwise. Her bread was reduced to a bunch of dry crumbs. But since she had brought them along as evidence, they were sprinkled over one of the rice dishes, and participants found the new creation quite to their liking.
For the next few chapters, the bible class became our testing medium. Each meal became more elaborate as more and more cooks joined the fray. Word spread about our dinners, which led to our first speaking invitation from a neighboring church's women's group. It was proposed that we come to talk about our book, but that the lecture be centered around a meal. Once again, recipes from one of our chapters were distributed to all the members of the group; because it had a large membership, two or three people signed up to cook each recipe. On the day that the meal was to be “tasted,” we arrived at the church hall to an aura of anticipation. One by one the dishes were put in place, and the arrangement of such a variety of foods on the table was an incredible vista. All in all, more than thirty people showed up for lunch that day, including quite a few men who didn't want to be left out. In fact, several husbands had done the cooking themselves, relegating their wives to merely choosing the right serving dish or container. The meal was delicious, and the variety of interpretations of the same recipe was fascinating. The group leader proclaimed that it was one of their most successful programs ever, and we are already signed up for a visit again next year.
Following the warm reception from the churchwomen's group, we decided to branch out. To date, we have offered biblical cooking classes at the local evening adult school, traded recipes with attendees at the American Academy of Religion Conference in San Antonio, set up a fund-raising dinner using portions of our work for a book club in Maryland, gone on the lecture circuit at various church functions, and entertained proposals about opening our own restaurant. The writing of this cookbook has also encouraged a new boldness in how we prepare everyday meals: spices like zaatar, sumac, and turmeric, which we had never used, now show up regularly in the dishes we eat. Plus, we've learned not to be shy about trying any recipe, no matter how strange it seems, and we've been accepting cooking challenges we'd have never dreamed of taking on previously. In fact, we recently catered a luau for over 160 people, using many of the techniques and variations on some of the recipes we had written while composing this book. Pondering what other possibilities and opportunities lie ahead has become a most intriguing pastime.
Someone we know quite well once commented, “If you can read, you can cook”—a motto we have taken to heart. We invite you, therefore, to read Cooking with the Bible—and then cook; and we trust that we have provided ample interesting culinary challenges in the pages ahead, and along with them, plenty of food for thought.