Passover Traditions, Memories, Borscht Martinis & Drunken Pharaohs !

By Tuesday, March 31, 2015 6 Permalink 1
A Syrian Seder/Feast (photo source: photographer Nir Kafri from www.haaretz.com)

A Syrian Passover Seder/Feast (photo source: photographer Nir Kafri from www.haaretz.com)

Passover is around the corner and in households worldwide, the final countdown has begun. When talking to some of my family & friends and looking at my facebook page over the last week, it’s incredible to see how hard everyone is working to make this holiday feast so special! What many have made vis-a-vis amounts and variety puts me to shame! In yiddish, the perfect word to describe all these enthusiastic, talented (mostly) women is a balabusta (a great woman in all ways who knows how to kill it with her cooking)!!

Are You a Balabusta? (Photo source: http://balabusta.kosherhomemaker.com/)

Are You a Balabusta? (Photo source: http://balabusta.kosherhomemaker.com/) Which Yiddish Word Describes You? (Photo source: Playbuzz.com)

Passover is a holiday that has been in existence since antiquity (over 3,300 years ago) when the Jewish people, then called the Israelites, with the help of their prophet, Moses, escaped from slavery in Egypt (referred to as the Exodus). Since this ancient festival is celebrated around the globe, the foods that are prepared can be very different. For example, the Ashkenazi Jews, emanating from Eastern Europe, eat one food that many, Ashkenazis included, cringe at and often joke about. This well-known dish is called gefilte (meaning “stuffed”) fish, made from carp, whitefish or pike, and served with beet-red-hot chrain (horseradish). This is not a delicacy for the faint of heart! I, however, happen to love it!

Delicious traditional Gefilte Fish! (Made by the Centre Street Deli in Thornhill, Ontario)

Delicious traditional Gefilte Fish! (Served at last year’s seder; made by my favorite, the Centre Street Deli, in Thornhill, Ontario)

The Pesach (Yiddish word for Passover) seder table is usually adorned with one’s finest linens, dishes, cutlery and glassware, but the most important items consist of the seder plate, the sacramental wine for the prophet Eliyahu, and the matzah. In addition to the traditional matzah we eat, made by the long-standing Manischewitz or Streit factories in New York, and many others, I always serve a box of shmurah matzah. This type of matzah is actually “guarded” from the moment it is harvested.

Shmurah matzah from my hometown of Montreal -"The wheat is reaped before the sheaves have completely dried out, for once the wheat is completely dry, it does not draw water from the ground and if it becomes wet because of precipitation, it may ferment and become chametz even though it is still attached to the ground. The wheat kernels are carefully examined to make sure that there are no grains which have split or that are sprouting, and the harvest is carefully supervised to make sure that it does not become damp until it is ground into flour" (source: chabad.org).

Shmurah matzah from my hometown of Montreal made by the Montreal Matzoh Factory -“The wheat is reaped before the sheaves have completely dried out, for once the wheat is completely dry, it does not draw water from the ground and if it becomes wet because of precipitation, it may ferment and become chametz even though it is still attached to the ground. The wheat kernels are carefully examined to make sure that there are no grains which have split or that are sprouting, and the harvest is carefully supervised to make sure that it does not become damp until it is ground into flour” (source: chabad.org).

Every item on the Passover dinner table is symbolic of the hardships the Israelites encountered while in bondage. There are many beautiful Judaica and giftware items available for Passover which add an air of elegance & sophistication to any table, making the holiday more festive.

Gorgeous Passover & other holiday Judaica Art

Gorgeous Passover & other holiday Judaica Art

 

Passover Judaica in my home - beautiful, cherished gifts from family & friends and a stunning vertical seder plate by artist Gary Rosenthal

Passover Judaica in my home – beautiful, cherished gifts from family & friends and a few things I bought myself! Top middle panel: raw silk matzah cover made by Jerusalem artist Yair Emanuel; a stunning vertical seder plate by sculptor Gary Rosenthal, a cup for Eliyahu, a bevelled glass matzah holder, and a pewter & glass jar for horseradish.

Our family, like every other, has a treasure chest of memories of the many seders of days gone by. Ours were led by my sweet, and so very missed, Dad, who was fluent in prayer from his younger days attending cheder (an elementary religious school teaching Jewish tradition, history & prayer & the Hebrew language) in Dej, Transylvania, Romania, Some years, if we were lucky enough to share the holiday with our Uncle Aaron & his wife Sophie (Uncle Aaron was the grandfather we never had) from New York, our uncle, too, would conduct the seder either in our home or in his and my aunt’s apartments in either Queens or the Bronx. Their living space was very small and I remember they once took their kitchen table into their bedroom so that we’d have more room! Imagine having a seder between a bed and a vanity! Our uncle, too, was well-versed in Jewish prayer from his youth in Trembowla, Poland. These memories are so precious and our Dad and the many other relatives we have lost over the years are always with us, most especially during holidays.

Warm & cherished memories of some of our family's great times in the past. The upper-lefthand photo is an older one of our Uncle Aaron & Aunt Sophie. The rest, although not dating all the way back to our childhood, and not necessarily on Passover, are of our family (pre our children, Jory & Adina) having wonderful times. We always had/have the best of times when we're together with our core and all our extended family members on all sides. We're one lucky bunch!

Warm & cherished memories of some of our family’s great times in the past. The upper-lefthand photo is an older one of our Uncle Aaron & Aunt Sophie. The rest, although not dating all the way back to our childhood, and not necessarily on Passover, are of our family (pre our children, Jory & Adina) having wonderful times. We always had/have the best of times when we’re together with our core and all our extended family members on all sides. We’re one lucky & very blessed bunch!

Prior to one Passover, since I never make gefilte fish myself, my mom and I ventured over to the Montreal Kosher factory to pick some up. We stood in line for hours and when we finally got the fish, it was boiling hot. My husband, Bradley, had just gotten a brand new sports car which I was using that day and I suddenly realized that the piping hot fish would stink up his new vehicle. I thought he was going to kill me! My mom and I drove home with the windows wide open to let all the

fumes out. Thankfully by the time we got back, the wind had gotten rid of the odour! As you can see, gefilte fish is a huge topic of this holiday! Even my favourite comedienne, Joan Rivers (who, very sadly, passed away recently), was on the LOVE side of the gefilte fish equation. In the forward to a cookbook called Eating Delancey – A Celebration of Jewish Food, published in December 2014, she wrote:“If I had to choose a last meal, it would be gefilte fish with freshly grated horseradish.”

Joan Rivers on The Martha Stewart Show

Joan Rivers on The Martha Stewart Show helping the audience get ready for Passover. Her & Martha made chocolate-covered matzah with nuts & other toppings and she remarked: “Moses would have loved this!”  (Photo source: ohnotheydidnt.livejournal.com)

One day my mom was making another “delicacy” for Passover. Well, rather, she was opening up a jar of borscht. Not a pretty word, and also, another dish certainly not for everyone – it’s definitely an acquired taste! Borscht is a cold soup made from red beets. In the jar are what seems like a million tiny, thin slivers of these very red beets. On that particular day, the jar slipped out of my mom’s hands and smashed on the floor. She went mad trying to pick up, not only the shards of glass, but the pieces of beets that went into every crack in the floor! It took her forever to clean up! We laugh about it now but she was a wreck! (And if Borscht isn’t your thing (my brother Bernie shivers when he thinks of eating it!), there is something even more tantalizing – Shrek-green Schav!!!!! If you want to know more about these treats, this article brings them to life!

And here they are: The sensational Borscht & Schav - sisters from another mother! Borscht - the one and only - can be mixed with raw eggs (nasty) or with sour cream & boiled potatoes (a little better but not far from nasty)! Schav, now discontinued by Manischewitz (I wonder why!) - a concoction of sorrel & lemon (Photo source: Borscht - Manischewitz.com; Schav -

And here they are: The sensational Borscht & Schav – 2 sisters from another mother! Borscht – the one and only – can be mixed with raw eggs (nasty) or with sour cream & boiled potatoes (a little better but not far from nasty)! Schav, now discontinued by Manischewitz (I wonder why!) – a concoction of sorrel & lemon (Photo source: Borscht – Manischewitz.com; Schav – Wikipedia.org)

When my brothers and I were kids, our family would be invited to our cousins’ homes for holidays. Once, when we were at the home of one of my uncles and aunts in Outremont and the seder was just winding down, the doorbell rang. My dad jokingly said it was Eliyahu. (The custom on Passover is to set a glass of wine on the table for the prophet Eliyahu and then at the end of the seder, open the door so he could symbolically come in and drink the wine). I believed him & totally freaked out, bolting from the table at the speed of sound to hide! I was petrified! In the end it wasn’t Eliyahu of course, but another one of my uncles, aunt and cousins! lol! As I recalled this story, I tried to google an image of Eliyahu to see who I was so afraid of. This is the only one I could find!

Look familiar? Yes, it's none other than Jerry Seinfeld who, when he first hosted SNL, was in a skit as Elijah (Eliyahu in English) the Prophet with Adam Sandler & Mike Myers! :)

Look familiar? Yes, it’s none other than Jerry Seinfeld who, when he first hosted Saturday Night Live in 1992, was in a skit as Elijah (Eliyahu in English) the Prophet with Adam Sandler & Mike Myers! 🙂

Charoset is one of the symbolic foods on the seder plate signifying the clay & mortar the Israelite slaves had to mix for constructing the Pharaoh’s buildings. The sweet ingredients in this recipe symbolize their eventual freedom. Ashkenazi Jews usually mix together chopped walnuts, apples, cinnamon, honey, & wine while Sephardic Jews usually combine raisins, dates, figs & spices. (In truth, what really looks like mortar is my hubby’s matzah ball soup after he dumps the contents of a whole box of matzah farfel into his bowl, causing the farfel to sponge up all the soup)!!! There are literally dozens of recipes for charoset by Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese, African, Spanish, Greek, Turkish, Hungarian, Russian, French, Italian, Portugese, and many other Jews around the world! You can find a few variations here and here! This year, believe it or not, there is even a charoset ice cream made by Ben & Jerry’s (of course you do have to go to Israel to try it!)!

Ben & Jerry's Charoset Ice Cream - Only in Israel you say? Pity!!!! (photo source: http://www.abqjew.net/)

Ben & Jerry’s Charoset Ice Cream – Only in Israel you say? Pity!!!! (photo source: http://www.abqjew.net/)

There are as many variations of the Haggadah (the Passover prayer book) as there are recipes for charoset. Our family has two very unique, important ones in our collection – the Sarajevo and the Arthur Szyk Haggadahs. The Sarajevo Haggadah is said to be the oldest one in survival, from the 1300’s. You can watch this clip, called “Searching for Hope – The Sarajevo Haggadah” to find out more about this incredible artifact that survived generations, wars, and everything in between. My hubby and I were very fortunate to wander into an art gallery in La Jolla a few years ago which had a few limited edition reprints of this Haggadah. We were so intrigued that we ended up buying one and have proudly displayed it in our home ever since, looking at it every Passover to remind us of the survival of the Jewish people who have endured the Exodus, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, and so many other horrific times over the past 5775 years of their existence.

Our Sarajevo Haggadah

Our Sarajevo Haggadah

The other Haggadah which has deep meaning to us was created by the brilliant artist, caricaturist & historian, Arthur Szyk, on the eve of the Nazi occupation of Poland, where he lived at the time. In it he portrays many parallels between the perils of the Jews in Egypt with the Nazi genocide of the Jews during the 1930’s & 40’s. He, luckily, escaped being murdered, moving to the U.S. in 1940. The masterpieces he created are incredible, not only for their mastery and calligraphy, but also for the brutal time in history during which they were created. As fortune would have it, last year while visiting San Francisco, my hubby & I visited the Contemporary Jewish Museum which was hosting an exhibit on “Arthur Szyk & The Art of the

Haggadah.” It was the first time in over 60 years that all of the paintings he created for the Haggadah (48 in all) were on display. As a daughter of two Holocaust survivors, this Haggadah has special significance to me.

The Arthur Szyk Exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco February 2014 and some of the pages of our Haggadah

The Arthur Szyk Exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco February 2014 and some of the pages of our Haggadah

On Passover leavened bread is restricted. In it’s place is matzah (as mentioned earlier), a hard, flat, cracker-like board, made solely of flour and water with absolutely no leavening agent. The reason for this ritual is due to the fact that the Jewish people fled from Egypt in such a hurry that their bread didn’t have time to rise. In fact, any product with yeast is prohibited along anything made with wheat, spelt, barley, rye, oats or spelt. For Ashkenazi Jews, kitniyot is also forbidden (including legumes, rice, corn, soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, mustard, sesame seeds and poppy seeds), however these foods are okay to be eaten by Sephardic Jews who never adhered to this prohibition. As for matzah, most products for Passover are matzah-byproducts. You just can’t escape it!

My DIY Matzah & Matzah Products Pop Art :)

My very own DIY Matzah, Matzah offshoots & Potato Starch Pop Art 🙂

When we were kids my mom would change all the dishes, lest they came into contact with anything non-Passover. She would put elastic bands on the cupboards where everyday items were stored and we would strum the elastics like guitar strings! I had a favourite white bowl for my chocolate milk and matzah farfel cereal. It was MY bowl, but one day, my younger brother, Stephen, took ownership of it and it was no longer mine (I think he still has it)!!! My older brother Bernie and I didn’t have to fight over favourites because he always loved matzah brei (kinda like a very large, thick pancake, made from broken-up matzah, eggs and water), and I hated it! Bernie loved it smothered in sugar or strawberry jam.

The chocolate milk for the concoction above was made with the ultimate  syrup - Fox's U-bet (it's a bummer that I have not been able to find it the Toronto supermarket shelves for the past few years) & the infamous matzah brei with jam & with sugar!

The syrup used for the chocolate milk & farfel cereal made in MY favourite bowl was Fox’s U-bet (it’s a bummer that I haven’t been able to find this  favourite brand of mine in Toronto for the past few years) & the infamous matzah breis – one with jam (Photo source: flamingomusings.com) & one with sugar (actually the one with sugar pictured here is actually a Lemon Ricotta matzah brei (yes I’m serious!!!) – tres #nomnom!!!!! (Photo source: norecipes.com)

My mom would use these see-through green mixing bowls that she received from a lady who used to help her clean her home, along with these pyrex bowls with different coloured decorative bands on them. Most of our dinner plates were amassed from Texaco gas stations (are they still around???) over a period of time. Every time my dad filled the car up with gas, we were awarded a plate or soup bowl! One of the drinking glasses we had was an old Schwartz’s mustard jar! We also had a little, manual, dullish-silver teapot which was heated up on the stove, and kitchen utensils with red plastic handles. Whenever we see these items, they bring back so many wonderful memories of our Passovers long ago, and we can still smell the delicious dishes my mom would prepare. Today, my mom is strictly a guest at our seders as she has “retired” from cooking! But her recipes have, thankfully, been handed down to us so we can still enjoy her gourmet delights!

Here are my mom's green bowls and a few others along with a cookbook she was given, published in 1956 which was given to me and some older Haggadahs that we used to use at our family seders

Here are my mom’s green bowls and a few others along with a cookbook she was given, published in 1956, which was recently handed down to me along with some older Haggadahs that we used to use at our family seders

The Schwartz's mustard jar drinking glasses!

The Schwartz’s mustard jar drinking glasses! (Photo source: fabfindsblog.com)

In the “old” days and even today, the most symbolic wine for Passover is the legendary Manischewitz Concord Grape – fodder for many jokes because of its intense sweetness. It definitely tastes more like grape juice than actual wine, but be careful; you can easily drink down an entire bottle without realizing it! Not a bad deal for college students at only $7.99 CDN a bottle (yes, I know, I’m a horrible parent!!!), however beware of the plague-like hangovers! There are some really fun cocktails bartenders have come up with, both with this kitschy elixir and without it such as the Manischewitz Smash, the Borscht MartiniManischewitz Jello Shotsthe Brickmaker, the Elijah Fizz, and even the Oy Vey Iz Kir adapted from the Shalom Japan Restaurant in Brooklyn, NY!  My favourite, however, has to be the  The Drunken Pharoah, (learn how to make it here)!

Mmmmm Manischewitz! I think I'll just drink it straight from the bottle!

Mmmmm Manischewitz! I think I’ll just drink it straight from the bottle! Pictured here is the fabulous Shannon Sarna, editor of The Nosher. (Photo source: myjewishlearning.com)

Since this holiday has been celebrated for thousands of years there is no end to what one can write about on the subject (especially for me, who, as my readers know, has the worst editing skills on the planet). I hope I’ve covered just a bit here!

To all those who celebrate and to all those who don’t (but wish they did!), I wish you a great holiday! Bitayavon (Bon Apetit!)  L’Chaim (To Life)!!!!

Until next time, Hugs & Kisses from The Pomegraddict

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6 Comments
  • Eric
    April 1, 2015

    Wow! What a great post!! You definitely are a balabusta 🙂 !! So many amazing pics – wonderful reading about how you spent your Seders as a child, and seeing all of the amazing Judaica at your home. Deb and I will miss it so much this year!

    We are in Israel right now – on a Kibbutz in the North called HaGoshrim, very close to Kiryat Shmona. We’ll be having Seder this year with Deb’s side closer to Tel Aviv in Kochav Yair. Next year in Jerusalem! (or Toronto!).

    Peace, Love, and Matzah for all!

    Eric & Deb

    • pomegrad
      September 3, 2015

      Hi Eric & Deb! Would you believe I am only checking the comments on my blog posts now? I had no idea you had written this lovely note to me! You’re both so sweet!!!! Well, we will once again miss you both so much at Rosh Hashanah. One of these days we must have the holidays together and see you. It’s been way too long!!!! Shana Tova to both of you! Wishing you a most happy, healthy, prosperous and joyous New Year! xoxoxo Love, Joanne and family

  • Lisa
    April 2, 2015

    i love this blog Joanne. You retell your memories so vividly while at the same time providing great facts about the Passover holiday!!

    • pomegrad
      September 3, 2015

      Hi Lisa! You are so so sweet! I am thrilled that you wrote such a beautiful comment! I’m only checking in on my blog now, months later! I guess I should check it more often!!!! You have always been my biggest fan and/but I, too, am your biggest fan as well! Love you! xoxoxo Jo

  • Leslie
    April 3, 2015

    Luv it!
    I’ve been to a hassidic seder . Oy, so long but very joyous. They were Lubovichers..the ones who reach out to all jewish people. And-the rabbi was from Canada! (I love matzah brei but once threw up from gefilte fish) Alans family seder was very serious when it came to songs. Trouble was-mother in law could not hold a tune. So off key. DAYENU!!!

    • pomegrad
      September 3, 2015

      Hi Leslie! I opened my blog today and was so pleasantly surprised to see this beautiful and so fun comment from you! I had no idea you had written something to me! You’re so very sweet! Wow, a Hassidic seder – that’s the real thing! I know, Lubavitchers/Chabad are in every corner of every little place in the world trying to revive Jewish life. We may not be observant like them but we must thank them for continuing the religion and traditions that have been in existence for many millenia! You’re so funny with the gefilte fish, and your mother-in-law’s voice! I am still wishing to one day meet you in person, cuz! In the meantime, I wish you and your family a very Happy, Healthy, and wonderful New Year! Shana Tova!!! xoxoxoxo Love, Joanne <3

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