HomeApril 2012Glorious Celebration

Glorious Celebration

Poor us.  No bread for a week.
During Passover we eat matzo, the poor bread that sustained our ancestors in the desert, and call it the “bread of affliction” to remember that once we were slaves in Egypt.  But miraculously God led us into freedom, enabling us to create a glorious celebration around it, using our ingenuity, skill, traditions and collective memory.  To focus on what we do without for those eight days is to see the glass half empty.
We Jews sure love a challenge, and imaginative Jewish cooks through the ages, like a million Iron Chefs all working with the same surprise ingredient, have molded, crumbled, whipped, layered, fried, baked, infused and combined matzo and its ground cousins with an astonishing variety of other ingredients to produce a tempting feast.  The fact that we base a glorious celebration on the “bread of affliction” illustrates that we have the freedom to do so.
Matzo is one of the few “Jewish foods” that we actually invented.  (Cholent is another.)  Strict rabbinical rules govern every aspect of its production.  I asked David Rossi, vice-president of marketing for RAB Food Group, owners of the Manischewitz brand, to explain the Passover manufacturing process.
“From the time water touches the flour and gets mixed, then sheeted, made thinner and thinner, to the end of baking in the oven,” he said, “can be no longer than 18 minutes.  If there is a mechanical failure or some issue or error where the matzo did not get through that run in 18 minutes, then the whole run must be thrown away.”
Before the company can begin production for Passover, the entire facility must be thoroughly cleaned and inspected – a procedure that makes my grandmother’s fastidious weeklong scouring seem like a light dusting.
“The process takes four to seven weeks,” Rossi noted. “All the belts, lines, motors and ovens are cleaned and kashered to meet strict rabbinical standards for Passover.”
Turning out hundreds of Passover items is no overnighter.  “We begin making Passover products in September until early March for the following year,” he said.  “Because the plant is kashered at tremendous expense, we produce Passover products until we’ve run all the requirements for the year.  Then in March we start making non-Passover products.”
Apple-Apricot Matzo Schalat (the word derives from cholent and has nothing to do with the “charlotte” pudding of French cuisine) is my family’s favorite kugel, awaited eagerly each year.
Any lingering thoughts on the restrictions of Passover are quickly dispelled by dessert.  Every family has its favorite sponge cake, homemade macaroons and other tasty recipes, but sometimes the simplest is the best – Marble Chocolate Matzo to bring a sweet ending to our sweet celebration of freedom.  Chag sameach!


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