A Bitter Sweet Passover Remembering My Mother

It was another bittersweet Passover.

Just like the holiday itself, the period around Passover is forever tied in with my mother Betty not only for the beautiful Jewish rituals lovingly passed down but because she passed away Erev Pesach on April 18 the morning before the first night of Passover that year. Unimaginably, it has been 14 years now that I have prepared my seder meal by the light of a yartzeit candle.

Unlike other Passovers, this year there would be no massive cooking preparation for me for a large seder.

Despite considerable jet lag having returned that morning from my week in California, I knew it would not be Passover unless I made my mother’s matzo balls.

Bleary-eyed I stumbled around my kitchen and took down the familiar blue box of Streit’s Matzo Meal from still unfamiliar shelves. Grabbing just the right size Pyrex mixing bowl in just the right mid-century color, I plucked out the well-worn recipe written in my mother’s less than Palmer-perfect script. Though I knew the method by heart seeing it again gave me comfort.

Her recipe was highly coveted – the manner in which she got her batter to reach those heavenly heights was strictly confidential. All the women of B’nai Brith begged her, and the Hadassah ladies tried to hondlen with her.

Mom too was used to the sidelong glances from the gals of Sisterhood who scrutinized and analyzed trying to break the code for the sacred recipe. Which brand of matzo meal- Horowitz Bros.& Margareten, or Manishewitz? Maybe Streits was the secret.

Did she use Cott’s Club Soda, or stiffly beaten egg whites; oil or schmaltz, or, God-Forbid-butter?  No matter how hard others tried to cajole, coerce, and extract the information, her lips were sealed.

Years later I would learn the secret, handed down for generations until finally, it was my time to be entrusted with it. It wasn’t about the seltzer, the stiffly beaten egg whites, or even the schmaltz.

The one ingredient you must put in everything you cook, according to my Great Grandma Rebecca and passed down to my mother is love. If you do, everything you cook will be delicious.

Only then, she claimed, would it be a “meichel for the beichel!” ( a gift for the stomach).

Now as I went to grab a whisk to beat the mix with, I looked up and noticed my mother’s old rotary egg beater staring me in the face, displayed among other vintage kitchenware.

Relegated for years as more decorative than functional, I knew it was time to call the gadget back into active service.

Holding the light blue Bakelite handle and grinding the gears for the spinning blades, was a powerful sense memory, suddenly transporting me back to a yellow Formica table in my childhood kitchen, where I would help my mother prepare for the massive seders she cooked for.

This first Passover in my new home, is filled with sweetness and tears, not unlike like the traditional combination eaten at the seder of charoses and moror.

It saddens me that this is a home my mother would never know, but it is one infused with her memories, her spirit, and her love. For today she was very much with me in the kitchen. And in my heart.

5 comments

  1. Sally, thanks for remembering her well. Mother’s recipes and the time with her in the kitchen as she cooked, are the best way to keep her in our minds. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Keith. When we lose someone we so deeply love, holidays can be particularly hard especially when they are so associated with the loved ones, but the foods and rituals tie us together in a primal way.

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  2. elinor berner

    Happy Passover, Sally. Rich memories like yours (and mine) help to keep our loved ones with us always For me, it was my mother’s gefilte fish preparation. And the resulting patties were unbelievably good and always accompanied by homemade horseradish. A combination “to die for.”

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    • I am so impressed your mother made her own gefilte fish! ( and horseradish) That’s no small feat but I am sure the results were incredible. The effort and love that goes into that can truly bring back wonderful memories.

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