Passover memories revolve around family.
We asked six accomplished cooks to share their most vivid Passover food memories. While the tastes and traditions span the globe, they share a common theme: sweet memories of simpler times, good food, and family bonds.
My Mother’s Legacy
“First, I have to explain what it was like to make Pesach in my Sephardi home. It was complete hysteria! All the Purim food suddenly disappeared. The women climbed ladders and washed walls and ceilings! You were equated to a murderer if you brought a cracker into a bedroom.
When it comes to cooking, though, Moroccan food is very little maintenance; the ratio of results to labor is very high. We only use the best ingredients that speak for themselves. When you use the best, you have fewer steps, and you work less.
My mother made me the cook that I am. Her skills in the kitchen are nothing short of acrobatic. If the litmus test for a cook is to get fabulous results from ordinary ingredients, she passes with flying colors. Her cooking always reminds me of the lyrics of the old French song L’Auvergnat that translates approximately as follows, “It was nothing but a piece of bread, but it warmed my body all over, and in my soul, it is still burning like a big feast.”
Here’s one of my favorite Pesach recipes that embodies all that I learned from my mother about cooking:”
The Taste of Kindness
“So many of my Pesach foods come along with special memories.
I still think about my grandfather’s crispy potatoes with sour cream. In the middle of all the Erev Pesach hullabaloo, he made it for the kids. It never tasted as good the rest of the year. And he also made a mean matzo brei!
Today, my kids look forward to my Pesach recipes like mocha praline ice cream or marinated mushrooms. I also make them a strawberry relish by dissolving 2 strawberry jellos in 2 cups of boiling water. Then I add 8 ounces applesauce, 1/2 cup sweet wine, and 1/2 cup slivered almonds. The almonds take on the color of the wine, and it’s delicious!
My kids wait for these recipes! I could make them all year, but they’d lose the excitement.
There’s one other recipe that has a special place in my heart. When I was in seminary in Israel, it was before Rosh Hashanah, and I was out on the mirpeset, miserable and homesick, with no plans for Yom Tov.
Then, a friend called me to the payphone. Rebbetzin Chaya Kaplan was on the line! Her husband, R’ Naftali, was the mashgiach at the Mir yeshiva. They were my parents’ shadchanim. She invited me for Yom Tov and reserved a seat for me right next to her!
They served a delicious dessert which they called “glidat vanil” and “glidat choco.” It tastes like custard ice cream! My whole family makes it now, and it always reminds me of the kindness of that special couple to a lonely sem girl in Israel.
Even though the world has modernized, these are all real, good foods that my family still loves.”
They Always Make Me Smile
Paula Shoyer is the author of five cookbooks: The Kosher Baker, The Healthy Jewish Kitchen, The Holiday Kosher Baker, The New Passover Menu and the brand new Instant Pot Kosher Cookbook. She can be found at thekosherbaker.com and Instagram @kosherbaker:
“Although my grandmother was the pivotal baking inspiration in my life, my mother only baked once a year, using the Manischewitz cake mixes for Pesach. Every year I would look forward to the sponge cake, muffins, and, especially, the brownies. The biggest challenge was that the brownies’ pan size was rather small, and if you didn’t get to them first, they would be gone. My mother only ate chocolate desserts, and every time I eat a rich chocolate dessert, I think of my mother, who passed in 2015. I rarely make brownies during the year. I save them for Pesach, and they always make me smile.”
Syrian (and not so Syrian) memories
Jacqueline Elbaz is a personal chef and recipe developer known for her authentic Syrian cuisine:
“I lived upstairs from my great grandma until I was 21, and I learned all my Syrian cooking from her. Before Pesach we would make yebra (stuffed grape leaves) together. Now my kids make it, too!
My other Pesach memory is also with my great grandma. Every year we baked Manischewitz coffee crumb cake from the ‘cake in a box’ mix. It’s not very Syrian, but I still make it every year and think of her. It gives me that warmth.”
“My Pesach memories start with going to sleep the night before Pesach. When I woke up the next morning, the kitchen was all ready for Pesach, and my mother was cooking.
The pantry was stocked with all my Pesach favorites: Schmerling chocolate, coconut marshmallows, potato chips, and, of course, jelly rings. When my parents bought the food, they would store it in the basement until the kitchen was ready. I remember sneaking down there to peek at what they got!
My mother never baked for Pesach because the baked goods at Montreal Kosher Quality and Homemade Kosher Bakery were so good. I looked forward to the strawberry shortcake all year! We also got roll-up cake, rum balls, and almond horns. I didn’t like the chocolate-dipped side of the almond horns, so I would break them off and give them to my mother.
I think things were much simpler then. My mother did all her cooking on Erev Pesach; it wasn’t a crazy show like today. And I still love those special Pesach foods.”
It Wouldn’t Be Pesach Without It
“The first thing I think of when I think of Pesach cooking is ‘ayer lokshen.’ Making it is a time-consuming process, but it wouldn’t be Pesach without it. I have childhood memories of trying to steal some from the pile that my mother was working so hard to make!
My mother cut the lokshen into thin strips and put it into the soup. I still do that, too. But I also give the lokshen a modern twist by using it for Pesach eggrolls and vegetable or liver blintzes. I’ve even used the lokshen for Yerushalmi kugel.
I make a huge stack of bletlach before Pesach, using eight or 10 dozen eggs. I mix three to four dozen eggs at a time. Then I dissolve the potato starch in water so it won’t get clumpy and whisk it in. I never use an electric mixer; it makes the batter too frothy. I get a good workout instead!
I only use crepe pans to fry the bletlach. The pans stay hot, cook quickly, and are shallow, so it’s easy to flip.
It takes me about an hour to fry each batch. Here’s my secret: I use four pans at once! It takes all my concentration, so don’t try to talk to me while I do it! I have a rotation filling the pans, flipping, removing the crepe, and repeating. I get about 100 to 115 bletlach per batch, depending on how thin I made them.
To store them, I do what my mother did. I stack 20, roll them tightly, wrap them in foil, put them in a Ziploc bag, and then freeze them. On Pesach, I defrost them as needed. I slice the lokshen as I serve the soup, so the pieces won’t get dried out. Even people who don’t usually take noodles in their soup take the lokshen on Pesach.”
What are your nostalgic Pesach memories? What foods take you back to an earlier time?
And one day, your children and grandchildren will reminisce about your cooking and traditions. What will they say?