This excerpt from A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking has been
reprinted with permission from the author. The book will be available in
September, 1998, from Doubleday.
REFLECTIONS OF A BAKER AT PASSOVER
By Marcy Goldman
A couple of weeks before Passover, I take a look at my kitchen and get ready for the Big
Passover clean up. It's more than the regular spring clean-up. It's time to put away all my
the tools of my trade and passion - the tools of traditional baking. Passover is the eight day
Jewish holiday that recalls the Jewish escape from slavery. Observant Jewish homes abstain
from regular baking and bakery products during the holiday, switching gears, as well as
menus, to accommodate Passover traditions.
In essence, Passover means flour and yeast as well as other leaveners and grains, take a
hike, and matzoh moves in. No mean feat, in my case. At any given time, I store some six
to seven hundred pounds of flour (creamy all purpose, velvety unbleached pastry flour, hard
bread flour, sandy, grey rye, golden semolina) in all the crevices of my home. Jars and
bricks of yeast can be found in every fridge and freezer. Wild yeast spores, like elusive
mustangs, fly invisibly, elusively, in the air. Three bread machines, sit on the counter, their
very presence a silent statement. This is a baker's place, my kitchen. If rolling pins sported
audiometers, mine would boast a most impressive mileage - on highways and byways
fashioned of pie, cookie, bread and danish doughs. But as this wonderful, historical festival
of freedom draws near, the activity that defines me and my life pauses. Passover is a good
time for me to take a breath as a baker. Given the choice, as all bakers, I would never have
my hands out of the flour barrel too long. Much like a mother who naturally, unconsciously,
ruffles her toddler's tousled hair, so a baker's hands are similarly drawn to a powdery
mound of flour with its beckoning potential. Flour is irresistible, as necessary to a baker's
soul as air is to lungs. So I am happy for the Passover respite. It is a gentle, enforced
sabbatical that provides perspective. It reminds me as a person to recall my history and
imagine Moses' trek. It reminds me as a baker, to respect my craft and to appreciate the
luxury of abundance in its simple ingredients, and the opportunity to do what I love.
In keeping with the holiday ritual, the flour canisters are scoured, stored or covered. Bread
machines go into hibernation. My stock of home fashioned frozen bagels and French breads
dwindle and disappear. Instead, familiar, friendly boxes of Streit, Yehuda, and Manischevitz
matzoh, as well as matzoh meal, appear. The holiday draws closer. My sons and I try a
batch of homemade matzoh - spring water and wholewheat flour - nothing else - not even
time - figures in this recipe. Soon, slabs of thin dough, pricked with a docker, get a brisk
bake on the oven stone. Homemade matzoh is not according to Hoyle (or Holyestein, in this
case) but it does recreate baking history. Not all matzoh is baked in New York or Tel Aviv;
not all matzoh comes out of a box. The first matzoh, the prototype, after all, was homemade
too. The crisp flat breads, along with hard-boiled eggs, sea salt, and pungent black pepper,
make a fine snack for three always-hungry boys. A huge pot of water for the chicken soup is
set to boil. Passover rolls, meant for school lunches, are fashioned out of matzoh meal, oil,
and many eggs. Fresh grated horseradish, that potent, fiery condiment that punctuates the
Passover meal, is tossed with sugar, vinegar, and red-hued beets and left to age.
The preparations are many and joyous. As the sun sets and the night of Passover, initiated
by the first Seder meal, is moments away, the guests begin to arrive. My sons, who just
moments before, had their habitual "who's turn is it to bring up the bridge chairs" argument,
transform into gracious, ambient hosts. They spirit away coats, find vases for flowers
brought as gifts, and ensure the Seder plate is replete with its ancient food symbols. The
candles are lit and a prayer ushers in a special, momentary quiet. And then the story of
Passover, is recited in turns by each and every guest, begins.
"Why is this night different from all other nights?"
Easter is about renewal; Passover marks a new beginning - and both, to some extent, are
about awakening out of a period of shadow - be it the heaviness of winter or the spiritual
fatigue of a bondage long ago. Occurring as they do in early Spring, the holidays are a
release into the light after of the gloomy darkness of winter. As Easter does, Passover
celebrates hope and newness, and is appropriately heralded in by soft breezes, sprouting
crocuses, and the return of the Canadian geese as they make their way homewards. With its
rituals and timeless customs, it is part of the welcome, generic faith of spring.
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