Passover is one of the most significant holidays on the Jewish calendar. The eight-day celebration commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt as told in the book of Exodus.

In a broad sense, the Jewish community not only remembers the historic event of Passover during this period, but also rejoices in their own freedom as Jews.

Bertha Bodenheimer of Auburn explains what is eaten during Passover.

“We follow basic kosher guidelines, but there are additional restrictions during Passover. For example, when the Jews escaped, they left in a hurry, leaving no time to allow bread to rise, resulting in a flat cracker known today as matzo. Because of this we do not eat any leavened or fermented foods.”

In fact, not only do Jews forbid the eating of leavened products, the home shall be “crumb free.”

“It is customary to take a candle and feather in a search for crumbs,” said Bodenheimer. “It was a fun time for my children when they were young. They would scatter crumbs for their dad to find with the candle and he would sweep them up with the feather, burning them either outside or in the fireplace.”

“We didn’t have to throw away items like yeast, baking soda and baking powder though.” she added. “Traditions are different in each house, but in mine, all leavening products were put in a special closet with a ribbon on the knob, reminding us to not open the door.”

Instead of focusing on foods that are prohibited, Bodenheimer and her friend Malca Wilner embrace the foods that they can eat during Passover.

“Special foods are what separate the holidays from other days of the year,” Wilner said with a smile. “One of our favorite meals for breakfast is matzo brei, which is similar to French toast and is served with jam or syrup. Kugel is a side dish served with the main meal; it can be sweet or savory.”

Substitutions help as well.

“Thickeners are replaced with potato starch,” said Bodenheimer. “If a recipe calls for bread crumbs, I crumble matzo crackers. Instead of baking cookies, I make chocolate toffee matzo crunch . . . and cake meal is used for making kamish bread, which is a beloved dessert.”

Passover begins with the traditional Seder.

“The Seder is much like a ceremony,” explained Wilner. “Items on the Seder plate are not picked at random. Each food item is a symbol. The Haggadah, which is Jewish text, sets the order of the Seder.”

“It’s the telling of liberation for the Jews,” added Bodenheimer. “It is passing history down through the generations so that we will never forget that we were once slaves in Egypt and are now free.”

The Seder plate holds six ritual items described and eaten at specific times throughout the formal ritual. The manor (bitter herbs) is a reminder of the bitterness of enslavement in Egypt; karpas (green herbs) symbolizes the green of hope; haroset (a fruit and nut paste) represents mortar used doing the pharaohs’ labor; a roasted egg is the symbol of life; zeroa (roasted shank or chicken bone) is a reminder of the paschal sacrifice; and salt water symbolizes the tears and sweat of enslavement.

The seventh symbolic item is a matzo cover with sleeves holding three pieces of matzo bread; one to remember the Kohanims (high priests), one to remember the Levis (who served the high priest) and the last one for the rest of the Israelites.

A fourth piece was later added to remember anyone still enslaved today.

“An empty chair denotes those people who cannot freely celebrate the Passover,” explained Wilner, “and the four glasses of wine represent the redemptions promised by God to the Hebrews.”

Once the Seder is concluded, the feast begins.

“Most people serve lamb or brisket,” explained Bodenheimer. “Tzimmes is a side dish made with sweet potatoes and carrots . . . and of course there is always chicken soup with matzo balls.”

“Some foods are symbolic,” added Wilner. “Like asparagus, which represents the rebirth of spring.”

And let’s not forget the appetizers and desserts.

“Gefilte fish with horseradish served on the side is one of my favorite appetizers,” said Bodenheimer. “For desserts, I prefer the less-sweet treats, such as fruit salad or compote made with all types of dried fruits.”

“And I’ll take the sweeter strawberry fluff for dessert!” Wilner said with a laugh. “A jelly roll or kamish bread is good too; it’s nice to have something sweet and light after the feast.”

Tzimmes

8 14.5-ounce cans of diced carrots, and the juice from 4 of those cans, separated

2 29-ounce cans of sweet potatoes

(Fresh boiled veggies may be used as well)

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup potato starch (flour can be used after Passover)

Stuffed derma or matzo balls

Layer veggies and stuffed derma/matzo balls in a large casserole dish.

Combine carrot juice, brown sugar, potato starch and honey; pour over vegetables.

Cook 350, covered, for 1 hour, then uncovered for 30 minutes.

Chocolate toffee matzo crunch

4 to 5 pieces of matzo

1 cup margarine

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup chocolate bits

Line a cookie sheet with matzo crackers, breaking if necessary to cover entire bottom.

In a sauce pan, melt the margarine and brown sugar; pour over matzo.

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and sprinkle chocolate bits on top. Wait five minutes and spread with a knife.

Freeze until firm and break into smaller pieces.

Frozen strawberry fluff

2 egg whites

Pinch of salt

1 pint strawberries, cut up

2 tablespoons sugar plus 1 cup of sugar, separated

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Lightly coat strawberries with 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Beat egg whites until foamy then add the sugar and salt.

Beat on high until it forms peaks and fill the bowl; about 5-6 minutes.

Stir in strawberry mixture and lemon juice; freeze.

Haroset

3 cups apples, peeled and chopped

1 1/2 cups walnuts, chopped

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1/4 cup Manischewitz Concord grape wine

Mix apples and nuts in a bowl.

Add sugar and cinnamon, then grape wine.

Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator.

Fruit kugel

8 matzos broken up, soaked in cold water and drained

8 beaten eggs

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Desired amount of raisins, apples and apricots

1/2 cup margarine melted

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and pour into a 9-by-13-inch pan.

Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Jelly roll

6 eggs, separated

1 cup sugar

Rind and juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup potato starch

Whipped cream and jelly of choice

Beat egg yolks until thick and lemon colored.

Slowly add sugar, continuing to beat. Add rind, juice and potato starch.

Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into mixture.

Pour into a jelly roll pan lined with waxed paper.

Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Turn out onto linen towel and sprinkle with additional sugar and roll.

Once cooled, unroll and spread whipped cream and jelly. Re-roll.

Matzo brei

4 sheets of matzo

1/2 cup water

4 eggs

Salt and pepper

3-4 tablespoons butter

Break the matzo into pieces and place into a bowl.

Boil water and pour over matzo. Toss quickly and drain excess water.

Beat eggs with a fork; add matzo, salt and pepper.

On medium-high heat melt butter in a saute pan, add mixture and fry until crisp.

Flip over and fry other side, breaking into pieces.

Serve with syrup or preserves.

Kamish bread

3 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 cup oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups cake meal

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup chopped dates

Sugar and cinnamon

Beat eggs and sugar till fluffy. Add dry ingredients and oil, alternately, on slow speed.

Stir in nuts and dates.

Let stand in refrigerator 30 minutes or overnight.

Divide into four parts. Form into strips and place on greased cookie sheet and sprinkle with additional sugar and cinnamon.

Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove and dent center of each strip.

Fill with jam of choice and return to oven for 20 minutes.

Cool and slice.

Matzo balls

4 eggs, separated

4 tablespoons water

4 tablespoons oil or melted butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 cup matzo meal

Beat egg whites in a large bowl until stiff peaks form.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and water with a fork; add oil.

In another bowl, mix the matzo meal with the spices.

Alternately fold in egg yolk mixture and matzo meal into egg whites to form a light, firm dough.

Cover and chill for 1/2 hour.

Drop balls into boiling chicken soup.

Cover the pot tightly and simmer on low for 30 minutes.


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