Saturday, March 01, 2008

Matzo Ball Memories

[Sunday Scribblings this week asked us to write about our own personal Time Machine.]


It is the first of March and even though Passover isn't until April this year, I'm already starting my plans. We'll figure out who can come, and start counting dishes and chairs to make sure we have enough. I'll start making lists of the various tasks that need to be done (and by when). And I'll start the menu.


Some menu items are optional; the vegetable and potato change, and although I always make chicken, I use different recipes from year to year. But there are some things that don't change a bit. One thing that doesn't change is the chicken soup with matzo balls.


The chicken soup is my own recipe, based on a couple of recipes from books, memories of my dad making soup, and years of my own experience. It is a labor of love and it is all me. But the matzo balls are made from the recipe on the side of the Manischewitz Matzo Meal box. That's how my dad made them, and I've clipped the side of the box to keep because they keep coming up with "healthier" versions and I'm afraid one day the old recipe won't be there any more.


As I eat one of the resulting dumplings, I eat history. I eat my own history. I eat the same matzo balls I have made since Chelle and I hosted our first Passover in the 1980's. The first year was just the two of us plus her sister; the next year we had a total of 6 people. I think the biggest year (so far) was about 15 people. There is almost always a conversation (or a friendly argument) over the perfect consistency of matzo balls. "Do you prefer floaters or sinkers?"


I eat the matzo balls I had as a girl whenever my dad made them. He showed me how to keep them fluffy, by handling them as little as possible as they go into the boiling water. Those were my standard. Fluffy, light ones some people have nicknamed floaters.


My parents didn’t often make Passover dinner at home. We usually drove into St. Louis to Sammy and Rena's. Sammy had been my dad's roommate back when they were doing their medical residencies. Sammy presided over the Seder. Rena presided over the kitchen. Rena's matzo balls were sinkers. They were more substantial, more solid. We couldn't eat as many of them. But every year when I eat matzo balls at my own Seder, I also taste Rena's.


I never met my dad's mother; she died before I was born. But somehow I know I taste her matzo balls too, when I eat mine. And her mother's too.


The entire Passover experience is filled with symbolism, the things we eat representing our history. The matzo represents the unleavened bread that Moses and Aaron and Miriam ate in the desert. Jews all over the world eat matzo to remember history and take a place in that history.


I do the same. I eat the matzo and remember my own history, the history of my family, and the history of a people.
And it doesn't hurt a bit that chicken soup and matzo balls are mighty tasty!


18 comments:

gautami tripathy said...

Strange isn't it, how certain foods conjure up memories?

Reading your post I remember a few traditions we still follow around Diwali.

Today Michele sent me over, but you know I would have visited anyways.

redness said...

Beautiful post! May yours never sink ;)

sister AE said...

Thanks, Gautami. You know you are always welcome. Now I'm going to have to go read about Diwali.

Hi, Redness. Can you see me laughing?

Robin said...

I'm a fluffy girl myself, and like you I pride myself on my matza balls. I shared the recipe with a friend a few months ago and she was horrified by the amount of fat, but I wouldn't change a thing. There is love and history in every bite, who cares about a little extra cholesterol?

Passover is at my house this year but even on the off years one of my permanent contributions is the chicken soup with matza balls. We are very lucky to spend our holidays with two other families of dear friends whose families are also not in Israel, and I love the fact that my grandmother's matza balls (and sweet potatoes) are now part of their tradition too.

sister AE said...

Hi, Robin.
And now I think I'll taste your matzo balls at Passover too!

Maria said...

I've never eaten a matzo ball in my life! I think that I need to rectify that.

I feel the same about Irish stew. My mother made it and was very particular that it must be made with lamb. I have had it with beef and it just isn't the same. Irish stew was always served on St. Patrick's day. We never served corned beef and cabbage, in fact it was never heard of and both of my parents were born in Ireland. Funny how Americanized recipes get once they get moving.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I love traditions relating to food, our family never really had any and I think we lost out for it...

LyRy said...

I love the way this is written! The idea of eating history is unique and you handled it in an interesting way!

Linda Jacobs said...

I love the way this is written! The idea of eating history is unique and you handled it in an interesting way!

sister AE said...

Hi, Maria. Matzo balls are like any dumpling - the good ones are transcendent, but the bad ones just sit like lumps in your belly forever! I had read that corned beef for St. Patrick's was an American thing, but didn't I also read that St. Patrick's Day itself in the US is very different from in Ireland - not just the food.

Hello, Juliet. I think that calls out for the creation of one - starting with you! There's no reason that a tradition has to be handed to you. My wife and I eat homemade pizza on New Year's Eve - a tradition that started with us.

Hi, Linda. Thanks so much. The words may be mine, but the idea is embedded within Passover traditions.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Good hearing about these things we don't come across.

Michele sent me.

sister AE said...

Hello, Jean-Luc Picard.

colleen said...

Traditions are important. I remember kids in school bringing Matzo bread when I was growing up in Massachusetts. It was all a mystery to me then. I swung over from Michele's.

sister AE said...

Hi, colleen. I grew up where there were no other jewish kids, so we did quite a bit of explaining ourselves, back then!

Amarettogirl said...

The time machine in the form of a ....drumroll please.....MATZA BALLss!! great job with the post and beautiful way to connect traditions with memories!

sister AE said...

Thanks, Amarettogirl.

Heather said...

A wonderful take on the "time machine" theme. Holiday traditions do have a way of transcending time and carrying us into the past. Beautiful!

Thank you for stopping by. Hope you have a lovely Passover. ;o)

sister AE said...

Thanks, Heather. Glad you liked it.