By Jay Kitterman, consultant, Culinary Institute, Lincoln Land Community College
“Why is this night different from all other nights?” is the best-known question from the Passover family dinner (Seder) and is usually recited by the youngest person at the table. This year, because of COVID-19, I, along with our son and son-in-law, will not have to rearrange our living room furniture to accommodate the 25 or so guests we normally host for our Seder dinner. Jews will be celebrating Passover this year from sundown March 27 until sundown April 4.
First, a brief explanation of the Passover Holiday. Passover, or Pesach, is the Jewish holiday that marks the Israelites’ freedom from slavery in ancient Egypt, and the “passing over” of the first-born male Israelites from harm.
The foods labeled Kosher for Passover mean that the food meets the basic set of Jewish dietary guidelines, making it “kosher” — and then goes even further to accommodate the stricter requirements of the weeklong springtime holiday. All foods made from the grains rye, barley, oats, spelt and wheat are prohibited. During this holiday, Jewish people reject all unleavened bread and instead, eat matzo. The Israelites fled Egypt with great speed and before the pharaoh could change his mind as Yul Brenner did in the movie, “The Ten Commandments.” They left on their journey before their bread had time to rise.
Each Passover, Jews come together in their homes to tell the story of the holiday around the table as part of a ceremonial meal called a Seder. This annual retelling includes discussion of the holiday’s symbolic foods.
Unlike the wine served at my grandfather’s four-hour (seemed that long when I was a child) seder, not all kosher wine is sweet and made from concord grapes and there are plenty of options besides Manischewitz and Mogen David. Plus, they are enjoyable any time of the year.
Kosher wine is made with a mold grown of fruit or sugar — not bread. I learned while researching this article that Chicago was at one time the leading producer of kosher wine. Following World War II, Mogen David purchased a 50,000 square foot building on the south side of Chicago and produced only kosher for Passover wine. It’s interesting that 98% of Mogen David’s customers were not Jewish. The family in later years sold out, and production was moved to New York. In California, winemakers at Herzog Cellars have been making kosher wine since 1848 along with many other wineries including BR Cohn started by former Chicagoan and Doobie Brothers Manager Bruce Cohn.
Last week, I spoke with Gabriel Geller, director of public relations, Royal Wine Company. Royal Wine Corporation is owned and operated by the Herzog family, whose winemaking roots date back eight generations to 19th century Czechoslovakia. Founded in 1848, the Herzog family winery was renowned as the royal wine supplier to the emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Emperor Franz Joseph, eventually earning Phillip Herzog (1843-1918) the royal title of Baron. The winery was seized by the Nazis at the onset of World War II, and the Herzog family survived the war in hiding. After the Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia, the family moved to New York. All Royal products are certified kosher and they represent the finest wines, spirits and liqueurs from all over the world with products hailing from Italy, Israel, France, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Hungary, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Canada and the U.S.
Kosher wine is not a variety or category like Italian or French wines are. Kosher wine can be made from any grape variety, in any region in the world. Currently there is a revolution in quality among kosher wines the world over. Kosher wines are now made from such classic grape varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc from both the new and old world.
Israeli wine is produced by hundreds of wineries, ranging in size from small boutique enterprises to large companies producing over 10 million bottles per year. Wine has been produced in Israel since biblical times. The modern Israeli wine industry was founded by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, owner of the Bordeaux estate Château Lafite-Rothschild. Locally, The Corkscrew has a good selection of kosher wines from Israeli producers Recanati and Barkan. KosherWine.com has kosher wines from all over the world.
On a personal note, Passover is one of my favorite times of the year. The whole family traditionally comes together as in Jewish homes everywhere to celebrate freedom. As in the past, “Bubby” Carol will be spending hours planning and overseeing the holiday meal. Our youngest granddaughter will be asking the four questions. My roles will be selecting the wine, leading the family service and cleanup. My thanks to Lisa Stone for providing the following holiday recipe and Steve Stone for his culinary suggestions.
“Passover is when the whole community and family get together to remember who we are and why we are here.” ~ Jennifer Wagner.
Brisket of Beef
From Tales of Jewish Kitchens from Temple B’rith Sholom Community Dinner, 1974, submitted by Estie Karpman
- 1 – 4-5 lbs. brisket of beef
- 1 pkg. onion soup mix
- 2 medium onions diced
- ¼ bottle Worcestershire sauce (2-3 ounces ok)
- 8 oz. water
- Garlic powder
- Seasoned salt
- Wash brisket and trim excess fat.
- Season with garlic powder and salt on both sides.
- Place in roasting pan.
- Put diced onions, onion soup mix, and Worcestershire Sauce on top of brisket.
- Pour water gently over all so as not to wash off all the seasoning.
- Place cover on roaster and put in oven at 350 degrees for 3-3 ½ hours until tender. Check to see that the liquid doesn’t evaporate; if needed, add water to pan.
- (Steve Stone’s advice: prepare one or two days in advance and refrigerate. Then before serving, remove fat from the top of the cold beef and slice against the grain. Use pan juices to baste the beef and reheat at 325 degrees for an hour or until sufficiently reheated.)
- Serve with the natural gravy.