Tag Archives: matzo

Edible, tangible memories of Passover

 Matzoh, unleavened bread, is eaten in place of bread during Passover to remind us that Hebrew slaves fled Egypt so quickly that their bread did not have time to rise.

Passover is a holiday full of symbolic foods to help recall the story of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. It’s a favorite holiday of most Jews, including secular ones, for its meaningful ritual and celebration of spring, life and freedom.  When I think that people have celebrated this holiday in this way for more than 2,000 years, it never fails to move me.

During the seder, a ritual meal, the story of the Exodus is retold using special foods on the seder plate as edible reminders. One of those foods is charoset (you don’t pronounce the “c” but it makes the “h” more guttural), a mixture of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon that is said to represent the mortar the Hebrew slaves used in building structures for their taskmasters in ancient Egypt.

There are actually many varieties of charoset made around the world, some with sugar or honey, some with dates or other dried fruit, some cooked for a long time and some that look a lot more like mortar than my family’s version.

Ours is simple: Just mince apples and walnuts, add some sweet wine (yes, Manischewitz is traditional) and cinnamon.

Making the charoset this morning, I used this old-fashioned nut chopper with a spring, which I use only once a year.

Usually, I try to avoid cluttering my kitchen with things I use so seldom, but the nut chopper definitely gets a pass. It’s a tangible reminder of my childhood, when my mother always gave me the pleasurable assignment of chopping the apples and nuts for charoset, using the special nut chopper and a wooden bowl.

How many apples and nuts, how much wine and cinnamon? There is no recipe; just do whatever seems right.

Memories flooded back as I chopped the sweet apples and walnuts with the springy nut chopper, and remembered all the things my parents did to prepare for Passover, as well as all the things they kept that we would use only once a year during the holiday.  Two complete sets of dishes (as they kept kosher and needed separate dishes for the holiday), two sets of silverware, pots and pans — we hauled all of these up from the basement in  a series of orchestrated loads, while my parents taped up the cabinets holding the usual dishes, pots and pans so they would be clearly off limits.

Anything from the rest of the year that had to be used during Passover was “kashered,” a ritual that captured our rapt attention on the night before the holiday. A giant pot, containing the items covered in water, was set in the middle of the kitchen floor, while my father heated a large stone on the kitchen burner until it turned blazing red. Then, handling it with tongs, he dropped it into the water. Sitting at a safe distance on the stairway steps, we watched with fascination as the water erupted into a furiously bubbling boil.

This was my favorite of the Passover plates, with an image of apple pickers!

I think my mother might have gotten these dishes with A & P Grocery store coupons. I used to like to try to count all the apples in the picture before or after eating.

Though I love bread and baked goods (as anyone who has read this blog knows) I enjoy the restrictions of Passover too–and all the edible and tangible memories it brings with it.

For a sweet treat today–since one can’t make the usual pies, cakes and cookies–I made some meringues, adding grated orange zest to the recipe below.

The meringues are simple, though they take some time to bake. But that just gave me some extra moments to contemplate the Passover apple plate, and see if I could count all the apples…..

Note: This post was originally published in 2011.

Nut-and-chocolate-studded meringues
Makes about 25-30 — you can cut recipe in half if you like

  • 4 egg whites, room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into tiny cubes (or use chocolate chips)

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees and lay a sheet of parchment paper (or aluminum foil) atop a cookie sheet, and lightly flour with matzo meal.

  1. Whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they form soft peaks; then add 1/2 cup of sugar, beating until whites are very shiny and gradually adding the rest of the sugar in two batches.
  2. Fold in the nuts and the chocolate (and if you like, some grated orange rind), and spoon the mixture in mounds on the baking sheet, using about one tablespoon for each meringue. If you like, place a pecan or other nut half on top of each one (I didn’t do that).
  3. Bake for 30 minutes; then reduce the oven to 250 degrees and bake another 30 minutes until firm and dry and easy to remove. Cool and store in an airtight container. If meringues become sticky, you can re-crisp them in a 200 degree oven for 30 minutes.

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Filed under spring

Whatcha got cookin’?

newkitchen2

Well, since I moved, now nearly two weeks ago, I’ve been getting used to my new kitchen. It looks pretty spacious in this photo, but really it’s a pretty small galley-style kitchen from the mid-1970s, and it took me awhile to get it organized.  There’s a microwave oven, which I’ve never had (or wanted) in my life. I am mainly using it to store my skillets, but I did use it the other day to liquefy some honey, and I’ve heard it’s good at reheating a cup of tea.

newkitchen

It’s nice to have a pineapple in one’s kitchen

pantry

The pantry has lots of shelves. How thoughtful.

Fortunately, there’s a separate pantry I can use for storing canned goods, beans, Mason jars, coffeepots and such.

hankw

One of my favorite parts of arranging the kitchen was putting up the block prints my daughter Aviva made in her Country Cookin’ series. It’s a great inspiration for me to look over from the stove at Aviva’s “How about cooking something up with me?” rendition of Hank Williams with a spatula.

kitchenapron

Another pleasure was putting up one of my lovely vintage aprons on the wall — useful pockets too!

passthruThe kitchen is kind of isolated from the rest of the place except for a little pass-through to the dining room. It’s an old fashioned idea….and I wasn’t too fond of it until I found the cow-bell that my mom used to summon us to dinner. Now I ring the bell and Steve takes the food and dishes and silverware to the table.  Sometimes I pretend it’s a diner by ringing the bell and yelling “Order up!”

I'm feeling happy in this kitchen

I’m feeling happy in this kitchen

So, after all this arranging — what have I been cooking?

Well, as today is the last day of the eight-day holiday of Passover (and it was very appropriate to clean up and move just before), I’ve been making food without bread or leavening. No pasta, rice, beans, polenta, pizza or most of the other things I usually eat. We’ve had potatoes many different ways, asparagus and eggs, a roast chicken… For treats I made a chocolate walnut torte (flourless, of course) that I wrote about in a post last year and meringue cookies.

And this morning, I made some matzo brei for breakfast, with almost-the-last of the Passover matzo.

matzahbreipan

Matzo brei is easy. For two people, take three matzo and break them up into chunks in a colander. Run tap water over them for half a minute just to moisten. Beat three eggs in a bowl, add the moistened matzo, crumbs and all, and a dash of salt, and mix it all up with a fork. Melt a couple tablespoons of butter in your frying pan and when it sizzles, tip in the matzo-egg mixture and scramble it up, breaking up the pieces, and adding more butter for crispier pieces if you wish.

If you are two hungrier people, use four matzos and four eggs (and more butter). You get the idea.

matzahbrei

We always served it with some generous squeezes of lemon juice, topped by a shower of cinnamon sugar. You can have it with jam too. Some fruit and yogurt on the side would be quite welcome to round out the breakfast.

I apologize for waiting until the end of the holiday to put up a Passover recipe, but some people eat it during the rest of the year — Ruth Reichl says her family eats matzo brei on Christmas morning!

For me, matzo is the very taste of this great celebration of freedom,  and I never eat it except on Passover, waiting till that first day of the holiday, just as in my childhood, to taste the once-a-year specialty.

But if you know someone who’s been observing Passover and has half a box of matzo left over that they’d like to get rid of, well, matzo brei may be just the ticket.  Most of us are tired of matzo by the end of eight days, and you don’t have to be Jewish to love matzo brei!

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Filed under dessert, musings, spring