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Light, Laughter, and Latkes

Happy Hanukkah!

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, began at sunset yesterday, Dec. 7, and will be observed through Dec. 15 this year. Hanukkah marks the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE after a small band of Jewish fighters defeated a more powerful army.

To dedicate the Temple, they needed to light the menorah, but they found only enough purified oil for one day. By a miracle, the oil lasted for eight days, until new oil could be prepared. This is why lighting a menorah each night is a customary remembrance.

It is also a time to gather with family and friends and enjoy foods -- especially food fried in oil, such as latkes.

Latkes are a fried shredded potato pancake served with a side of applesauce or sour cream. The traditional version combines shredded potato, onion, egg, and flour, and is fried like pancakes in a frying pan.

For several decades, the Saginaw News highlighted Hanukkah traditions and shared latke recipes. The 1960s represented some interesting non-traditional takes such as a recipe for a dessert cheese-raisin latke, but for most years they stuck with the traditional potato and onion like this recipe from 1971:

Potato Latkes

4 large potatoes, peeled

1 medium onion

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 teaspoon salt

⅛ teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons flour (approx.)

Oil for frying

1 jar applesauce

Coarsely grate potatoes into a mixing bowl; drain off excess liquid. Grate onion into bowl; add eggs, salt and pepper. Stir in just enough flour so that the batter holds together. Heat about 1 ⁄ 4 inch oil in a large skillet and drop in potato mixture by tablespoons. Fry pancakes brown and crisp on both sides. Serve with applesauce. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

In addition to educational articles in time for Hanukkah penned by Sheila Morley, the paper also offered many articles highlighting the annual antique show and bake sale sponsored by Temple B’Nai Israel Sisterhood and the Sisterhood’s spring Kosher Buffet. Clearly Sagainawians of the mid-twentieth century loved their food events as much as we do today!

Morley wrote:

Food has an important symbolic value in Jewish life, and every holiday has its own roster of special dishes each more delicious than the last. In a culture where food means love, the highest skill goes into making something tasty and appealing no matter how limited the resources.

-“Delicious Jewish Food Rooted in History,” Saginaw News, Nov. 3, 1971, pg. 13.

Oh, and about that cheese-raisin latke recipe? We think cheese blintzes sound better, but to the brave cooks, here you go:

Cheese and Raisin Latkes

2 eggs, separated

¼ cup water

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups cottage cheese

¾ cup unsifted flour

½ cup raisins

Peanut oil

Beat together the egg yolks, water, sugar, and salt until well mixed. Stir in cottage cheese. Add flour; stir until thoroughly blended. Mix in raisins. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form; fold into the cottage cheese mixture. Heat about ⅛ to 1/4 -inch depth of peanut oil in a large heavy skillet. For each latke, drop about ¼ cup cheese mixture into hot oil. Fry on each side until golden brown. Add peanut oil to the pan as needed to keep proper depth for frying. Drain latkes well on absorbent paper. Serve hot with dairy sour cream, maybe. You’ll have about twelve delicate cheese-raisin latkes… and more compliments than you can count.

-from Sheila Morley, “Light, Laugher, and Good Food,” Saginaw News, Dec. 11, 1968.


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