RSS Feed

Passover Wrap-Up: A Few Words from my Brother

I’m turning this post over to my brother while I start planning Easter dinner. Its a crazy religious whirl we live in on Forest Street. The pictures (aside from the one that is pretty clearly a pot of matzoh ball soup) have nothing to do with the narrative, and I have not shifted to the frame-by-frame instructional style favored by some bloggers. They are just pictures from last night’s Seder preparations, and I hope that they give you a window into what this celebration means to my family.


I am the younger brother of your Forest Street culinary maven. I am by no means a foodie, so my contribution is strictly to bring a little color commentary to the Pesach table. Think of me as a half-Jewish Dick Vitale; often inane, occasionally embarrassing, and bald. But like Vitale, I hope with a rare ripple of wit and insight into the game.


For some years, I have become the designated maker of the vat (schissle, in the argot) of matzo balls for our family Seder. I am not a particularly talented cook, but I took the time to learn the art of making knedlach (Yiddish name) from my maternal grandmother. Since Annie is putting on the Seder this year, I am again taking my place as the soup maker.


For those who’s life hasn’t touched the matzo ball, imagine essentially a dumpling soup. Since the Seder meal has to be devoid of any leavened meal, the knedlach are made of Matzo meal. Served in chicken broth, very simple, and quite filling.


I do not use any exotic recipe. I wish I had a great story about Tante sneaking the recipe out of Minsk intact; instead Bernice (my beloved late grandmother) just made them extemporaneously. I learned early from her never to ask exact quantities; her invariable answer was “just use enough.” The basic recipe is matzo meal, eggs, shortening, salt, and chicken stock. The true art is in proportions, and desired texture, and ease.


The ratio of meal to eggs to shortening, at least according to Manischewitz (Hoyle to the Old Testament set) is 2 eggs, 2 tbsp shortening to 1/2 cup of Matzo meal. This makes pretty standard, fluffy balls. This brings up controversy number one – floaters versus sinkers. My grandmother’s family was distinctly in the sinker camp; firm balls that often needed a knife to cut. To get a firmer ball, it’s a simple matter of lowering the egg part of the egg-to-meal ratio to the desired firmness. Bernice made them closer to one egg to a half-cup of meal. Sinker people and floater people are like Yankee versus Red Sox fans; same sport, different words. I have lightened them up over the years in deference to my father; he is fully convinced that sinkers are the secret weapon that has given the Irgun (Israeli Army) the upper hand for so long.


Shortening is also a question. Bernice rendered chicken fat, and always had some around her kitchen. She also often had the byproduct known as grieven, which is truly one of life’s artery-clogging but mouth watering delights, and the subject of an entire chapter of it’s own. I have done this a few times – simply put chicken skin, onion, and salt and pepper in a skillet and cook until the skin is crispy. Drain off the fat to cool, and enjoy the skin. The taste of matzo balls made with chicken fat is heavenly – nice gloss, and very filling. However, the rendering is a major pain, and unless you are cooking with chicken fat all the time, hardly worth it. Melted and cooled butter works quite well, and is a great time saver.


Start with the eggs, add shortening and blend well, then mix in the meal in your desired proportion. I add a splash of chicken stock (“enough”, in honor of Bernice.) I don’t add any salt – between the chicken stock and the butter, there is plenty. Cover the dough and refrigerate for about 20 minutes. Heat chicken stock to just below a rolling boil; when the dough is firm, take and roll golf-ball sized balls, and ease into the stock. Add a rough chopped carrot, celery greens, and a scored yellow onion. Simmer just below boil for 40 minutes.


To be honest, most of the enjoyment for me is nostalgic. I love making these with my kids, and given my pretty poor retention of the religion it is one of my few nods to the culture. Some might find them insufferably bland, or overly rich; no offense taken. My brother in law correctly identified the amazing transformation of something with the taste and texture of drywall into something quite tasty.

Good Pesach to you all!



About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

6 responses »

  1. Good job, Peter. Now that Ann has guest writers on her blog, we know it’s joined the next level of celebrity blogs. Great pictures, too. I’ve never had matzoh ball soup, but it looks good. Funny, cuz we have great neighbors who are Jewish and hold Seders–gotta wrangle an invite one of these years.

  2. Ann, Peter,

    Well done, good to see siblings play nice on a project.

    Ann will have you blogging on your own soon Peter, if you arent firm with her.

    I saw some of those in the store, Ill buy a jar and see what they are all about………………..

  3. Robert . . . not matzo balls in a jar, I hope? They get gluey and flavorless. Make you own – not difficult, and they’ll be much better.

  4. Sir,

    I was just messin with ya.

    The family snapshots are priceless for a stranger, which some of Anns readers are.

    Seriously, you must teach Sam how to do this properly. One day he may be the one making them for the ‘older folks’….

  5. Eric, you might remind your neighbors (subtly, of course) that part of Passover is the requirement that one invite strangers or people who are hungry to the Seder table. Seriously.

    Robert, we have almost always played nicely, and now I think we’re actually friends. It’s a great good fortune in my life that I have one sibling and actually like him a lot. He also makes great matzoh ball soup, which doesn’t hurt. Also, good call on Sam learning the tricks of the trades – next year maybe he can go to Uncle Peter’s and make matzoh balls with his cousins.

    Peter, Robert is not a “stranger,” he is part of this other family I have in the interworld. He knows better than to buy matzoh balls in a jar. I think.

  6. Nice entry, PG. I recall with fondness our prior discussions of sinkers and floaters. I promise to try one of your recipes next year.

    A few years ago, we had seder with my sister-in-law in Royal Oak. My mother-in-law insisted on using schmaltz for her matzah balls and sent me out to get some. Can you believe that no grocery stores in the area knew what I was talking about? I finally found some at the One-Stop Kosher Market on Greenfield Road. When I asked the butcher if they had schmaltz, he replied “What kind?”.

    Apart from a quick moment of “oh, shit… there are KINDS?” we ended up with very tasty matzah ball soup.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: