The celebration of Chanukah, with all its foods, games, and stories, should be traditional. I decided to make this Chanukah and this column a traditional one, packed with interesting and most informative facts.
Also referred to as the Festival of Lights, the celebration commemorates the battle and victory of the Jewish people of Palestine, led by Judah Maccabee and his brothers, the sons of the Priest Mattathias, over King Antiochus IV and the Syrian-Greeks. The rebellion was against an attempt by Antiochus to force the Jews to abandon the worship of their religion, by turning the Temple of Jerusalem into a pagan shrine.
“Chanukah” means rededication. The celebration honors the rededication and cleansing of the Temple in 165 BCE after the Syrian-Greeks were driven out of Jerusalem. Judah rekindled the Temple menorah after cleaning it, and the practice of candle lighting continues to be the central focus of Chanukah. The most popular tale explaining the eight lights of the chanukiah is that through a miracle, one jug of olive oil lasted eight days, instead of one.
To properly light your chanukiah, use the shamash and light the candles in the holders, from the furthest right. Night one, one candle, besides the shamash. Night two, two candles, and so on. First light the shamash, then the most recently added candle. A box of purchased candles has the proper amount for the eight days. Chanukah candles are lit before Sabbath candles. Once the chanukiah is lit, it is not to be moved until all candles (of that day) burn out. The traditional setting is the windowsill. After the shamash is lit, blessings are recited and songs are sung.
The most popular Chanukah game features the dreidle as a spinning top. Children play by betting with nuts and candy. Each of the four sides has a Hebrew letter, altogether translating “a great miracle has happened there” (or, “here”). It is a game of chance, and of betting, and ends when one player has won all the “pot.” Another most important “game” for the children is the giving and receiving of presents, foil-covered chocolate coins, and small prizes.
Chanukah is not Chanukah without latkes, traditionally made of grated potatoes, similar to pancakes, that are fried in oil (thus incorporating the symbolic olive oil). Other classic foods are jelly doughnuts, fried honey puffs, sesame seed candies, and sweets featuring apples, honey, and oil as the primary ingredients.
May you and your family enjoy a traditional Chanukah. May you be blessed with the joys and miracles of a sweet life.
CLASSIC POTATO LATKES
The following is a classic potato latke recipe. In past years, I have shared several other latke recipes. Here, I return to the basics. Accompany with sour cream, plain yogurt, apple sauce, or with a dollop of my marvelous Apple, Honey, and Sweet Spices Preserves (recipe also follows).
Six medium to large (not over-sized) baking potatoes
One medium onion, peeled
Three eggs, lightly beaten
Two tablespoons matzo meal
Kosher salt and freshly grated black pepper, to taste
Cooking oil, for frying
Peel potatoes, and place them in a large bowl of iced water. Remove one at a time, and grate into another large bowl, using the large side of a box grater. Continue with all potatoes. Using a kitchen dish towel, place about one handful at a time into the towel, and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Place potatoes into a dry, large bowl. Discard water from bowl. Continue process to remove as much liquid as possible. Grate onion in the
same manner, squeezing out all excess liquid, and add to the potatoes. Mix in eggs, matzo meal, salt and pepper.
In a large, heavy skillet, heat several inches of cooking oil. Using a tablespoon and your hands, scoop out potato mixture, and place about three large amounts in the skillet, flattening into a pancake with the back of a spatula. When first side has browned, after a few minutes, carefully flip to second side, then brown. Do not crowd the pan. Remove latkes to a baking sheet lined with paper towels or waxed paper to drain. Continue process. If liquid settles to the bottom of the mixing bowl, do no mix in. You want your potato mixture to be as “dry” as possible. Place latkes on a foil-lined cookie sheet and in a very low oven to keep warm.
At serving time, accompany with sour cream, plain yogurt, applesauce, and/or my homemade preserves.
Yield: Approximately one and a half to two dozen latkes
APPLE, HONEY, AND SWEET SPICES PRESERVES
Serve at room temperature, to soften, and spoon a dollop on your latkes. Leftovers are outstanding on breakfast toast.
One pound apples, tart green, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and cut into quarters or eighths (approximately three to three and one half apples)*
Ten ounces honey
Ten ounces apple cider vinegar
One teaspoon ground cinnamon
One teaspoon ground cloves
One half teaspoon ground ginger
*Prepare the apples according to above directions and set aside.
In a large, heavy saucepan, heat the honey, vinegar, and spices, stirring with a wooden spoon, then add the apples. Bring apple mixture to a boil, then slightly reduce heat, and continue to cook, stirring, for approximately twenty minutes, breaking up the apples a little with the back of your spoon, until mixture is thick and somewhat smooth.
Spoon apple mixture into a bowl, allow to cool, and serve. If made in advance, refrigerate, and bring to room temperature before serving.
Yield: Approximately three cups.
APPLE, WALNUT SPICE CAKE
Prepared in a Bundt-style pan, this makes a stunning presentation especially due to a “trick” that I have created by dusting the buttered pan with poppy seeds, rather than flour. Remember to save this recipe for Purim, as many of Queen Esther¹s favorite treats were made with poppy seeds.
Softened butter for coating pan
One two point twelve-ounce tin poppy seeds, for coating pan
Two cups (packed) brown sugar
One and one half cups vegetable oil
Three cups unbleached all-purpose flour
One teaspoon baking powder
One teaspoon baking soda
One teaspoon powdered cinnamon
One half teaspoon powdered ginger
Three tablespoons apple juice
Two teaspoons vanilla extract
Three cups peeled, cored and chopped apples (I prefer Fuji, three to four)
Juice of one half small lemon
One cup chopped walnuts
Butter a ten-inch Bundt-style pan, then coat inside well with the poppy seeds.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar with the oil until creamy, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating well to combine mixture. In a second bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and ginger. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture, alternating a small amount at a time with the apple juice and vanilla. When mixture is smooth, fold in the chopped apples and walnuts. Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake in a preheated three hundred and fifty degree oven for approximately seventy-five minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Allow to cool on a rack in pan for fifteen minutes, then carefully turn out on to rack to cool. Cake will stay fresh, at room temperature, for several days if wrapped well with plastic.
Yield: One large Bundt-style cake.