Blogger Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson has invited me to participate in this year’s Hanukka Hoopla. To help wrap up your holiday, I’ll be sharing a Chanukah memory and a recipe in case you’re still looking for a latke fix.
My parents divorced when I was a preschooler. Mom settled down with my twin sister and me in suburban Columbia, Maryland, near her parents.
Grandma and Grandpa were about the most doting grandparents humanly imaginable. (And Grandma, at 94, ka”h still is!) While my grandmother ran a small business when I was very young, Grandpa had already retired by the time I was born. He found lots of ways to fill his time, and many of them involved keeping two little girls happy — namely, my sister and me.
Now, Grandma did most of the cooking around the house, but Grandpa had a few specialties. He made a delicious lamb stew, for instance, and he made his mother’s latkes. These were perfect, savory latkes — crispy on the outside, tender inside, with lots of good onion flavor. How we LOVED Grandpa’s latkes!
One year, as the holiday season approached, our teacher read us a picture book about Chanukah. At the back of it, there was a latke recipe. Smiling widely, the teacher announced, “Next week, during Chanukah, we’re going to test out this recipe. I’m going to send out notes to all your parents, and see if we can get all these ingredients and some volunteers to help make latkes!”
I was in heaven. Usually, I had to sit through one Christmas activity after another, and now here was my chance to share my culture with my class. After school, I took that note straight to Grandpa, because his latkes were the best.
“Grandpa,” I said. “Please, come to school and make your latkes!”
“Of course,” said Grandpa. And then he gave me a Hershey bar (because that’s what he always did when I showed up: offered me a Hershey bar or an Almond Joy or a Mounds).
When the big day came, Grandpa arrived with a beat-up piece of paper and a couple extra onions.
“Hello, Mr. Copeland,” my teacher said in welcome. “We’ve got all your ingredients here.” She showed him to one of the large tables. “And here is the recipe.”
“I brought my own,” he told her, holding it out for her to inspect.
“So many onions?” she said, her eyebrows shooting up in alarm. “I don’t think the children will eat latkes with so many onions in them.”
Wait a second here… “But my Grandpa makes the best latkes!” I burst out, “It’s the onions that make them the best!”
“Let’s make a deal,” Grandpa said. “The other parents make their latkes from the recipe in the book, and I make my latkes, the way my mother taught me, with all these onions. And then we do a taste test.”
“You’ve got yourself a deal,” my teacher said.
Grandpa washed our hands and led us over to the table. He set us kids grating the potatoes while he handled the onions. Of course he cried, and then he had to make a joke, so we were all laughing. We mixed and stirred, and finally dropped heaping tablespoons of batter into the sizzling oil.
Guess who’s latkes won the taste test, hands down?
When I started my own family, I wanted to make Grandpa’s latkes, but after Grandpa and Grandma moved, no one knew where the recipe had disappeared to, and Grandpa had passed away not long after I got married. (If you want to read more about my grandfather, and the truly weird things that happened after he died, you can find an essay I wrote about him here.)
Flash forward a few years, and one of my children developed an allergy to eggs. Even if I had located Grandpa’s recipe, it wouldn’t have been any help.
Like most desperate people, I turned to Google. After searching for latke recipes with no eggs, I found this one by Murry Shohat. It is by far the best recipe I found, and it gets extra points for simplicity — no egg-replacers needed! The trick is to great the potatoes extra fine and never skimp on the onions.
And, yes, I have sent this latke recipe to school with my children. Their classmates proclaimed it a winner, too.
As they say in Yiddish, have a lichtige Chanukah! (Meaning the holiday should be filled with light — light from Torah and light from joy.)
I will be giving away a prize to one lucky winner. All comments on this blog will earn a raffle ticket — one per person, please. The winner of the drawing (held after Chanukah) will receive their choice of my review copy of one of the following books: Farewell, Aleppo by Claudette Sutton or Measure of a Man by Martin Greenfield. Make sure you check this post by Jan 1st to see if you are the winner!
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