I grew up hearing stories of my grandmothers and their preparations for Passover, most of which began way in advance of the holiday. The walls had to be whitewashed, the geese had to be slaughtered and the goose fat rendered, and the down pillows were opened so that the feathers could be cleaned and re-stuffed into new ticking. Then there was the shopping and cooking. With large families, and no take-out or prepared foods available, everything was made at home. I was told that my maternal grandmother baked an enormous sponge-cake every morning, made with 12 dozen eggs, a cake large enough so everyone could have a piece for breakfast. I wish I knew my grandmothers, these women who worked tirelessly to keep their traditions and whose efforts made lasting impressions on their children and on the grandchildren they never had the chance to meet.
I think of my mother’s preparations for Passover and wonder how much she was influenced by her own childhood experiences. I think of my children and wonder if there are pieces they will choose to keep from their childhood. Do they remember that the glass dishes soaked in the bathtub for days, that they were made to clean their dresser drawers while keeping an eye out for pieces of gum or candy that might have been missed. That the trunk of the car was loaded with all the cutlery, pots and pans that had to be toivled at the synagogue and then driven to the car wash so that the back seats could be lifted and vacuumed? Or my personal favorite which was hiding the chametz around the house and searching for it by candlelight?
I too am starting to think of Passover and I remember specific foods that my mother always had on hand during the holidays. Home-made beet borscht for one, the cold version that had sour cream mixed in which turned it into the color of bubble gum, but which I never did acquire a taste for. When I met my friend Susan T., I discovered a meat version of beet borscht, made with short ribs and served piping hot with a generous dollop of mashed potatoes mixed with fried onions, heaped in the center of the soup bowl and suddenly I discovered how good beets could be. Eventually there were other preparations that I now love, like beets paired with goat cheese and walnuts, or simply roasted and drizzled with an aged balsamic vinegar.
I wish my grandmothers had lived to see how Passover is observed in the homes of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I imagine that they would shep naches knowing that their descendents make an effort to get together for the seders, that we care enough to argue over issues like kitniyot, that we have dishes like beet salad whose ingredients they would still recognize as being familiar, and that no matter how many of us there are, we make sure there is enough cake so that everyone can have a piece for breakfast.
Beet and Blood Orange Salad
5 medium beets, use a combination of red, orange, and yellow.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced, placed in cold water for 1 minute and squeezed out.
5 blood oranges, peeled, and segmented