First it was about the almonds. My mother used whole almonds, with the skins. Her sister, my Aunt Mickey, insisted the almonds were blanched. “I remember popping them out of their skins and almonds shooting across the kitchen floor,” Mickey said. My mother just looked at her with that older sister glare and chopped on.
Next it was about the lemon juice. It was always lemon juice, till my cousin Joan put in grated lemon rind. Mmm, tasty, but not the tradition.
You see, the Rittenberg family recipe for haroset calls for seven ingredients: apples, almonds, raisins, lemon juice, cinnamon, Passover wine and sugar. No one measures, so don’t ask me amounts. Just chop them all up in your wooden chopping bowl with your curved-blade chopper, taste as you go and stop when it’s just right. Only I don’t have an old Passover wooden chopping bowl and chopper; I use a food processor.
Stop right there. A food processor? “That’s not the tradition!” you say. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe, like me, you’ve found an easier way. And maybe, like my cousin and me, you’ve updated the old family recipe and now that’s your tradition.
We like the tradition, but even so we make changes. I’ve dropped the sweet Passover wine; cousin Joan adds grated lemon rind. Any maybe it’s even better, these new traditions. If my grandmother had owned a food processor, she would have used it!
In an earlier article (“Cleaning for Passover without the Stress” is available online at www.jewishlouisville.org), I suggested you free yourself from unnecessary burdens. That was about cleaning. This is about food and the message is the same. If it’s not necessary, let it go!
We don’t live the same way our great-grandparents did, we don’t eat the same way either. At the Seder, by the time we’ve all gobbled up matzah and maror, haroset and an egg, who needs a seven-course meal with two meats, five side dishes and a magazine-worthy dessert array? Nobody, that’s who. Least of all the ones doing the shopping, chopping and mopping.
Our family menu has streamlined year by year to pure essence: spring vegetable soup, lemon-baked fish, roasted potatoes, salad and one dessert accompanied by some chocolates. I’ve had no complaints.
Same theme goes for the whole week. In brief, eat food. Or the converse, if it’s not food, don’t eat it. As far as I’m concerned, if it came in a cardboard box, it pretty much tastes like cardboard. Forget the kosher for Passover packages. A couple boxes of matzah, whole wheat for preference, and you’re just about done.
When you shift the whole Passover menu to real, whole, fresh food it not only tastes delicious, but you can do your Passover shopping without leaving town and without spending your children’s inheritance. One blogger called it eating like an Israeli. Freshest produce, dairy and fish and meat if you eat those. Add nuts and seeds and, new tradition that it is, quinoa, that protein-packed seed from the Andes. Then, as the “eat Israeli” blogger pointed out, you’re likely to spend less and you won’t even need the prunes.
Celebrate spring with its riches. Liberate yourself from having to do it the way your great-grandparents did. They probably didn’t do it the way their great-grandparents did either. Liberate your family from food traditions that pad the pockets of the manufacturers and pad your belly but don’t support your wellbeing. Make this your family tradition.
And may this Passover be as delightful as it is delicious.
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Editor’s note: This article is the second of two articles Rabbi Metzger prepared as a series. Due to publication schedules, Community was unable to print the first in a timely fashion. You can, however, read it online at www.jewishlouisville.org.