Saturday night, the first night of Passover this year, will mark our 100th family Seder. When we were married just one year, my husband Marvin and I decided to observe the first two Seder nights of Passover in our own home, and we have done so ever since.
The house we lived in 50 years ago was very small, but we borrowed chairs and bought new dishes to accommodate our family and friends, and to create a meaningful Passover.
Although Passover requires a lot of preparation, it is my favorite of all the Jewish celebrations, and the one I look forward to the most each year. It brings our family together in a special way, and gives us a chance to share thoughts and memories as we participate in the Seder.
The menu always includes several recipes that were given to me by my mother, Molly Tannes, and my mother-in-law, Gene Zeidler. I think they were handed down to them in the same manner, never written, but carefully explained. That is probably why there is always a slightly different taste to each dish; sometimes measurements got changed with the new interpretation.
When our children were growing up they always helped prepare Passover food. It was the task of the oldest to help Grandma Gene prepare the cold egg soup, making sure it had the correct amount of salt ... usually too much.
Our son Marc directed Dad as he grated the raw horseradish by hand, and Zeke helped prepare the different types of charoset that we served. Susan and Kathy loved to help bake the Passover cakes and cookies, and Paul was always there to fill in when anyone needed an extra hand.
Over the years many new recipes became part of our Passover menu. We borrowed the idea of serving green onions, a symbolic food that Sephardic Jews use during their Seder service. And we now include steamed new potatoes dipped in salt as the first vegetable of the season.
This year I decided to ask our children which Seder dishes they enjoyed the most, and what memories the food brought to mind. I wanted to include everyone’s favorite tastes. Last year I omitted lamb shanks and there were some very disappointed people.
The first call was to our oldest daughter, Susan. She lives in Portland, Ore., with her family, but they never miss Passover in Los Angeles. Her answer was that she loves all the Passover desserts, as long as they are covered with chocolate. Her husband Leo said, “The matzo balls are what I like best. It is OK to skip the chicken soup, but be sure and serve plenty of matzo balls.”
Marc, the family gourmet, said he likes everything we serve for Passover, but his favorite dish is the salty hard-boiled egg soup because it is eaten at the conclusion of the Seder service, which means that dinner will soon be served. He also remembered that when he was in charge of this dish, he enjoyed adding extra salt to the egg soup, which prompted complaints of it always being “too salty.”
Kathy, a gifted artist, always brings a colorful hand-crafted centerpiece for the Passover table. And when asked what her favorite Passover food is, her answer was, “Of course, all of the charosets, and especially the Greek one,” which is a blend of dates, raisins, nuts and sweet wine. One of Kathy’s tasks is to design labels with the name of each charoset and its country of origin.
Paul had several favorite dishes but if he had to choose one, he said it would be Grandma Molly’s vegetable stuffing, either baked in the turkey or served as a casserole. The combination of vegetables, matzo meal and sweet raisins is so delicious, I always double the recipe and bake half of it in a casserole, because no matter how large the turkey, there is never enough stuffing.
Zeke was quick to respond, “Oh, that’s easy: Grandma Gene’s gefilte fish, but I’m sure everyone’s answer will be the same.” When he was little he recalls watching Grandma Gene grind and chop the fish by hand. He also remembers the smell of the gefilte fish simmering in the broth, and usually Grandma would give him a taste right from the pot.
So this year, everyone’s favorite dish will be served as part of our Passover menu, and no one will be disappointed. When the evening is over, they will take home leftovers to enjoy the next day.