by Miriam Edelman
We lost my mother (z”l, may her memory be a blessing) almost five years ago in July, but I never remember her more than at Pesach. Mama loved Pesach. My grandmothers (zichranot livracha) had very similar china and silver, so Mama was proud to be able to lay a seder for at least 30 with matching dishes and cutlery. She was a wonderful cook, and enjoyed both her own Pesach recipes and mine. She required my meringue macaroons and chocolate toffee matzah, and really loved it when I learned to make matzah. As my sisters and I became adults, this was a command performance: she wanted her chicks around her at Pesach.
She liked the cleaning less, even when, as she got older, I did it for her. She was a Depression baby and hated to throw anything away, unless I could demonstrate to her there were bugs in it, and living out in the country in Kansas, this wasn’t infrequent–I have never needed any further incentive for the thoroughness of my Pesach purge. It got easier when I saw the light that we are all Sephardi now (see here for the rationale that convinced me to eat legumes, or kitniyot: http://www.responsafortoday.com/engsums/3_4.htm), so we no longer had the battle of the peanut butter with my dad–who has issues with Pesach, but that’s another story.
Mom was a guiding light of the little no-rabbi synagogue in the small university town where she raised us, and much of her work involved organising things to feed people: Shabbat dinners, onegs, speaker brunches, the communal Yom Kippur break-the-fast, and especially the community seder. As she got older she reluctantly agreed to hire someone she knew to help with the catering for the seder, but it was several more years before she trusted her to make the matzah balls.
Because matzah balls, or knadels, or kneidlach, were serious business to my mother, a keen partisan for the ‘Fluffy’ side in the Matzah Ball War. I have long been careful to use the more neutral words ‘Fluffy’ and ‘Dense’ to describe these factions, rather than the pejorative terms each side usually uses to describe the other. For my mother, as I have discovered, for many on both sides, there weren’t two valid options: the other side just can’t cook. I think Mom perceived it as part of my youngest sister’s rebellion that she decamped to the Dense side. She would love that I now work for a company called Knadel (no relation).
So when in 2012 an emergency arose so that I was asked to organise the Wimbledon communal seder on a week’s notice, I channelled my mother. And since I knew that for some people that seder might be their only real experience of Pesach that year, I could hear her voice loud and clear that I could not let them go home without a matzah ball.
Charlotte’s Matzah Balls
(This is for 16, but who needs just 16? Multiply as needed.)
- 1/4 c (60 ml) fat–Mama used schmaltz, rendered chicken fat, but I tend to go for olive oil
- 4 large eggs
- 1c. (125 g) medium matzah meal
- 1t. salt
- 1/4 c. soup liquid (your choice–made up stock powder/cube works fine)
Mix fat and eggs together. in a separate bowl, combine matzah meal and salt, then add to the first mixture. Add soup and mix well. Cover bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Get a LARGE pot with a tight fitting lid. Fill 3/4 full with boiling salted water. Reduce heat to slightly bubbling. Either lightly roll the balls of dough, or simply drop in tablespoonfuls. Secret #1 for fluffy kneidlach: hanlde the dough lightly and as little as possible.
Cover the pot and cook for 40 minutes, WITHOUT PEEKING (secret #2: do not uncover the pot). After 40 minutes, scoop balls gently out with a slotted spoon and place into simmering soup for 5 minutes before serving.
Do not simmer in the soup for much longer or they may disintegrate: if you need to hold them, take them out of the cooking water and hold in a bowl. Or put them straight into serving bowls, so that they will be re-warmed when you ladle in boiling hot soup, which is what we did at the Wimbledon community seder.