EiSJ Interview with…Judith Krall-Russo, Tea and Food Historian

Well, it’s high time we got back into interviewing some of the amazing food folk that we meet in our travels in and around South Jersey. We started coming across Judith’s name early on in our blog’s existence while searching for interesting food events to add to our list. Every month, you can find her somewhere in Jersey giving a talk or a demonstration on food history or about the rich history and customs surrounding tea. You want a lecture on the history of blueberries in New Jersey? She can do it. A demonstration on different Asian tea ceremonies? Got you covered there, too. And if that weren’t enough, Judith is also a restaurant consultant. With all of this activity, we are very happy that Judith took some time to answer some questions.

EiSJ: What was the ‘a-ha!’ moment where tea became more than just an interest and was becoming a passion?

Judith: Growing up we always made tea with Tetley or Lipton teabags. One day, as a teenager, I found a store that sold tins of Twinings loose tea and purchased a tin of oolong tea. The taste and fragrance were so different from my teabag experience. The love affair began at that moment.

EiSJ: What is the most surprising fact that people do not know about NJ food history?

Judith: It’s amazing that many people do not know that New Jersey grows cranberries. People think of cranberries and Massachusetts just comes to mind, not New Jersey. Also, New Jersey is the third (sometimes the second) largest grower of peaches in the USA and people are astounded to find that out. Say peaches and people immediately think of Georgia.

EiSJ: What is your favorite tea and how do you like to enjoy it?

Judith: That is a difficult question. I love matcha, the powdered green tea used in tea ceremony. I make myself a bowl in the morning and drink it while looking out the kitchen window; but in the late afternoon I love making a cup of strong black tea, with milk and sugar. When I am working on the computer or doing research I usually make a pot of Taiwanese oolong and sip it for hours.

EiSJ: In our Starbucks-obsessed culture, where do you see tea’s place?

Judith: The interest and love of tea is growing. We see more tea rooms and casual tea cafés sprouting up all over. The local grocery stores offer a much wider selection of teas as compared to the past. We find restaurants cooking with tea and recipes using tea as an ingredient are found in magazines each month. Even the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times often have articles concerning tea. Although the interest in tea has grown by leaps and bounds we are still a coffee drinking culture, but now coffee has some stiff competition.

EiSJ: Growing up, who was the person that piqued your interest in cooking?

Judith: It was the local library. I would go to the library and read all the cookbooks and cooking magazines that I could get my hands on.

EiSJ: Do you have any favorite family recipes?

Judith: My favorite family recipe is my mother’s stuffed cabbage.

EiSJ: What is the strangest tea custom you have come across in your studies?

Judith: Most of us in the USA have been brought up on the English way of serving and drinking tea. Since tea is the most consumed beverage in the world, next to water, there are many different tea drinking customs. One of my favorite customs comes from Central Asia (countries such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan). Tea is served in bowl-shaped handleless cups and the honored guest is given a small amount of tea, maybe 2 or 3 sips. The host constantly adds small amounts of tea to the cup, insuring that they guest always has a hot cup of tea. If the guest does not want to sip in small batches, they ask for “tea with no respect” and they get a full cup of tea. When you ask for a full cup of tea you are considered a rude guest.

EiSJ: What are some of your favorite places to eat in South Jersey?

Judith: Some of my favorite places to eat in South Jersey are: Paninni Bay in Tuckerton, Angie’s Bridgeton Grill in Bridgeton, and Di Paolo’s Italian Restaurant in Penns Grove.

EiSJ: As a restaurant consultant, are you primarily using your expertise in tea, or are you able to bring in your food history knowledge as well?

Judith: I think it is important for restaurateur to know where their food and tea comes from and the history that surrounds various foods and beverages.

EiSJ: What bygone food traditions would you love to see return to New Jersey?

Judith: During strawberry season everyone should indulge in strawberry shortcake for dinner at least once a week.

EiSJ: If someone was just beginning their journey into the history of food in New Jersey, what’s the first book you would recommend?

Judith: “Down Jersey Cooking” by Joe Colanero

EiSJ: When it comes right down to it, is there anything better than a Jersey tomato?

Judith: No…well, maybe a Jersey peach or Jersey sweet corn or perhaps a pint of Jersey blueberries.

Once again, we thank Judith for her time. To find out more about her lectures and demonstrations, please check out her website.

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One thought on “EiSJ Interview with…Judith Krall-Russo, Tea and Food Historian

  1. Very interesting interview. Specially about the central asian custom of serving a few sips of tea & If you ask for tea with no respect, you get a full cup.
    I’m living in Texas now, and this article makes me homesick for my jersey blueberries & other jersey treats.

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