Spring has definitely sprung~I can tell because I’m sniffling and relying on my FloNase twice a day. That means it is time for the annual Spring festival of Passover. Did you know that Passover is THE most celebrated Jewish holiday of the entire year?
More so, then either of the High Holidays or Chanukah. I personally think it is because every Jewish child has a memory (or two) of Passover Seder: the fear of having to chant the Four Questions in front of everyone, finding the afikomen or getting drunk for the first time on Mogen David.
I was very flattered to be asked by FTD.com to share some of my Passover memories on how to set the Passover Table. Here are the thoughts I shared with them.
There is something special about Passover. Childhood memories of sitting at the end of the long holiday table sipping our first taste of wine, asking the four questions, reciting the plagues while playing with toy frogs, and the search for the afikomen (which gives the youngsters their first taste of bargaining power) becomes implanted in our DNA. Passover Seder is the occasion that truly brings Jews (and non-Jewish family and friends) home for the holidays.
There are ceremonial items coupled with the desire of every hostess to create a holiday tablescape worthy of her guests. The word “seder” means, “order,” and like everything surrounding the holiday, there is an order to the dining table itself.
The focal point of the table is the Passover Seder Plate. They come in all shapes, colors, languages and artistic preferences. Here we chose a modern-looking clear Seder plate to complement the classic Spring pinks and greens in our FTD bouquets. Every Seder plate includes an appropriate place for the Seder service ritual items: the hard-boiled egg, bitter herbs (horseradish), lettuce, roasted shank bone, charoset and a green (many U.S. Jews use parsley or cucumber).
Next, matzo. We eat a lot of matzo. The general prohibition for observant Jews during Passover is a ban on yeast, because the bread did not have time to rise before the Jews fled slavery and Egypt. Instead there is matzo, which is flour, water, salt and oil; made without yeast. Having no time to rise, it is the “bread of affliction.” As you can see in the picture, there is a full box of matzo for the table, and the three pieces of matzo (covered) to use as the afikomen, the ceremonial end to the meal.
Next on the table, the Cup of Elijah, which is a wine glass, and plenty of wine. Each person at the table will drink four cups of wine during the Seder meal. If you haven’t checked out our sale from KosherWine.com it isn’t too late. My Passover hostess (AKA my sister-in-law) got the gift box we sent her last night.
One reason the Passover table is always so crowded is because we are commanded to welcome the stranger. No one should be refused a seat at the holiday meal. Many families invite interested non-Jews to the table to learn firsthand about the holiday.
Elijah’s cup represents the ultimate stranger. Each year the children at the table rise to go to the door and open it to check to see if this is the year of Elijah’s appearance. (Once, as a young child of 5 or 6, the screen door opened and shut for no apparent reason as I stood to peek outside the front door for the prophet. I was positive it meant Elijah had come to my Passover.)
Just as in November, Americans begin to salivate over mashed potatoes and pecan pie; at the time of Passover, our thoughts turn to matzo ball soup, kugel and gefilte fish. Although not required as a part of the meal, culturally they are as important to us as the shank bone (the symbol of the Exodus on the Seder plate).
Although my memories are all about the tasting of the foods we associate with the holiday and not the preparation of them; I thought it would be fun to include recipes of some of my favorites.
With the prohibition against yeast, good desserts at the holiday table are hard to come by. But, this chocolate matzo that my husband makes is my favorite.
Then there is the kugel, a casserole with as many variations as there are cooks (they can be sweet or savory). Of course, no one’s ever comes close to my Bubbe’s (Yiddish for grandmother).
Although that recipe will stay a family secret (AKA I don’t know it). Here is one (she has 15 of them) from my fellow Austin Jewish Blogger Amy (Yes, can you believe there are two of us?) over at What Jew Wanna Eat?
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour 30 mins
To make the topping, toss together cornflakes, sugar, cinnamon and butter and sprinkle evenly over noodles.
Bake kugel for 1 hour until golden brown. Let stand at least 5-10 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.
I hope I’ve given you some shorthand to create a Passover table. The easiest way to experience the holiday yourself is to attend a community Seder at one of your local Jewish congregations. Part of the fun will be hearing the memories of the others who, year after year, tell the story of the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt.