According to a 1990 survey, more than 80% of Jews celebrate Passover, the exodus of Jews from Egypt over 3,500 years ago. It’s my favorite holiday! I remember celebrating it with one set of grandparents in Detroit, one grandmother in Chicago, at home in Skokie, and sometimes with friends of the family – who included the now famous writer and political strategist, Ken Kurson.
I liked the foods, but in the olden days, I hated the bitter herbs – horseradish, in Ashkenazi tradition – and also, gefilte (stuffed) fish. I also didn’t like borscht.
The Seder plate has several unchanging items: charoset (guttural “ch”) – made of fruits, nuts, wine, spices. It signifies the brick mortar without straw that Jews had to build with for Pharoah. Now, that does change a little bit: here and in Europe, we use apples. I hear in Cuba, they use coconut! That sounds great. I’m going to have to try it.
The other items include a hard-boiled egg for life, parsley for Spring, salt water for tears, a lamb shank for the exodus/sacrificial lamb, and bitter herbs. Ashkenazi (eastern European background Jews) use horseradish. But the Sephardim (Spanish/Portuguese Jews) use Romaine lettuce ribs. I feel so vindicated! As my mom would attest, I used to try to pick off lettuce ribs… I hated them and still do. They are bitter. I was always told that they weren’t and I’d better eat them. It may be one of my favorite things about being a grown-up: throwing out lettuce ribs.
Seders also require four cups of wine and matzo (unleavened bread). For the meal, I make my grandmother’s recipe for matzo ball soup from scratch, and gefilte fish mousse (I got the recipe years ago from the JT…it’s kind of like Whole Foods’ Mediterranean tuna salad). This year, for the brisket, I got mine from Texas Hickory Brisket! (www.texashickorybrisket.com ). To paraphrase my grandmother whom I called “Mom,” why make brisket when Texas Hickory Brisket does such a good job? She actually said that about Manischewitz and gefilte fish.
I made some coddies this year with cod, mashed potatoes, hand-roasted garlic, scallions, and matzo meal. They turned out very well. I also served (pictured) a bottle of Mirgorodska water that I got from Euro Deli. My grandfather came here from Mirgorod, Ukraine, in December of 1913. It’s a salty-ish sparkling water, good with Passover foods.
So, you see my table above, complete with china, crystal, and silverware from my departed ancestors. The relish tray, Elijah’s cup, and wine glasses were my Bubbie Sonia’s. She got the silver cups in Israel. The fish forks are part of a silverware set that my dad bought me the day I was sworn into the Maryland Bar. The Haggadahs (Seder prayer books) were my mom’s… she’s still alive, thank you very much! We got them at the Jewel food store in Skokie, Illinois. They publicize Sanka. I understand that Cosmopolitan magazine’s former editor, Helen Gurley Brown, likes Sanka. I also have silver candlesticks, little china salt dishes I used for mustard this year, linen napkins for the people and the matzo, a colorful striped tea kettle and tablecloth. Very Dorothy Draper. If I were having Seder at The Greenbrier in West Virginia or The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, I’d be “in the pink”. For Passover, I like to go all out.
After Seder, I always like to watch my DVD of Fiddler on the Roof. Tradition!