April 1, 2015
In my household the Passover Seder is a “gantzeh megillah” — a big production. For us, the Seder is the hardest event of the year to prepare for. Yet it is by far the most meaningful because it commemorates the defining chapter in Judaism, when the Jews fled slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.
The Seder is all about “order” and is a Jewish ritual feast that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover. It is conducted on the evening of the 15th day of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar throughout the world.
This was my mother-in-law’s favorite holiday, and we carry on the traditions in our home with 20-plus guests sitting around at mismatched tables and chairs. We try and follow the traditions written in the Bible more than 2,500 years ago. We may not “eat the flesh that same night, roasted over fire,” as the Book of Exodus says, but we still eat unleavened bread, bitter herbs and many other dishes added to the original meal.
Like many practicing American Jews, my wife, Carol, removes all leavened products and legumes like beans from our kitchen and we eat matzo each day. We divide the work: I conduct the Seder, buy the wines, and have rewards for the children who find the afikomen, the hidden matzo. Along with our son and son-in-law, we move furniture to make room for all our guests to dine. Carol starts weeks ahead with all the preparation of the festive meal. Our daughter prepares the chicken soup with matzo balls hoping that they are neither “heavy as lead nor light as a feather.”
The Seder plate, holding special foods that are mentioned in the Seder service, is a focal point of the table. On our seder plate the horseradish (maror), symbolic of the bitterness of slavery, is served with matzo and Charoses. The eggs (Beitzah) for the plate are symbolic of the sacrifice in the temple in ancient Jerusalem and of everlasting life. Roasted lamb or shankbone (Z’roa) symbolizes the Passover sacrifice. A vegetable (Karpas), often parsley or celery, dipped into salt water at the beginning of the Seder represents the tears shed by the Hebrew slaves in Egypt.
We look forward to the day when we can conclude the service by chanting “Next Year at our daughter’s house!”
Lisa Stone, at her Seder, scoops out beets and inserts horseradish to accompany the gefilte fish. She says it perks up an otherwise boring piece of fish!
Chef David Radwine, formerly of the Sangamo Club, has provided the following family recipe.
Charoses, pronounced ḥărōsees, is a traditional component of the Passover Seder, eaten to remind us of the mortar our slave ancestors used to build Egypt. Although there are many varieties with ingredients based on the area where Jews lived, David’s mother made a traditional Eastern European or Ashkenazi version, which reflected the ingredients of our ancestral family homeland, prior to coming to America in the late 1800’s. It was one of the best parts of the meal, eaten on pieces of matzoh.
Leila Radwine’s Charoses
5 apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
5 tablespoons sugar
1 cup red wine, Kosher for Passover
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.
Beryl Feldman provides her mother’s recipe for sponge cake. It was the only dessert she made for Passover. The only other option in her household for dessert was canned macaroons. The sponge cake was always served with defrosted frozen strawberries. “While the cake was baking everyone had to be quiet, not run around or slam any doors lest the cake fall,” says Beryl. “Taking it out of the tube pan was a two-person job, meaning my mother and me. She always sighed in relief when the cake came out in one piece.”
Beryl Feldman’s Mother’s Sponge Cake
8 room temperature eggs, separated
1/4 cup potato starch
1/4 cup cake meal
1/2 cup orange juice
1¼ cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Stir the potato starch and cake meal until well combined. Set aside.
Beat the egg whites with the salt until stiff but not dry.
Beat the egg yolks until a light lemon yellow color.
Add the sugar, beating well.
Add the orange juice.
Add the dry ingredients.
Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the egg batter.
Pour into an ungreased tube pan with a removable bottom.
Bake at 325 degrees for 45-60 minutes.
Remove from oven and immediately turn pan upside down.
When totally cool, 1-1½ hours, carefully remove cake.