In December 1960, I unofficially borrowed the Ad Man’s best scissors for the event that would change my world. I had been invited to share my first tree trimming duties at a neighbor’s house when I was five years old. Having no idea what tree trimming meant, I wanted to be properly prepared with a sharp instrument just in case I had to actually cut the tree. Turns out trimming meant something else entirely, and from that moment on I was completely sold on the all aspects of decorating a holiday tree, eating Christmas cookies, and sharing candy canes with both the tree and my pocket. Hanging stockings was not only brilliant, but something I could easily do at home.
In fact, I was so smitten with the whole process that I campaigned mercilessly in my Jewish household for at minimum the hanging of the stocking ritual. After all, filling a stocking with treats wasn’t apparently religious, something I reconciled in my mind and tried to sell to my unwavering parents. Stubborn was my middle name and on Christmas Eve I took my biggest knee sock and hung it on the end of my bed since we were missing the all important fireplace. Sadly, the next morning it was a dusty heap from falling on the floor during the night and as cold and empty as my little heart. I vowed to never mention it again, but I also vowed that when I was grown up I would have a fireplace and a stocking that would be filled with treats no matter what.
Until then I would remain loyal to all things Hanukkah including our annual family and friends party at Fake Aunt Rose’s house. The better part of Hanukkah was the endless piles of potato latkes we ate once a year, but the holiday still lacked the dizzying magic of inviting a large jolly fat man down your chimney to load up the bottom of a decorated tree with tons of brightly wrapped gifts. I did finally grow up to the ripe old age of 17 when I married into a family that skipped the religion but kept the tree and all the trimmings including the cookies and the candy; everyone, including me, had a homemade stocking with their name on it – hung on the fireplace.
In spite of lusting for candy, cookies and brightly lit trees, I still honor my heritage by celebrating Hanukkah in the style to which I had been raised. Over the years we’ve collected interesting menorahs and scads of candles (equal opportunity wax and pine needles in the hardwood floors in our house) lighting them at Hanukkah. One night during the eight days and nights of Hanukkah we make the traditional piles of latkes eating them until we literally pop.
I would entertain our children with the story of the infamous Hanukkah parties in the late 1950’s. I’d tell them how we would all gather at Fake Aunt Rose’s house for a swell gathering of friends and family. That the men-folk would take over the ritual of latke making and enslave the children into prep work, peeling piles and piles of potatoes and grating them in those pre-Cuisinart days on box graters. Led by my dad, the Ad Man, the men would turn out about 465 latkes as though they were still feeding a mess hall of men from their days in the military. We were required to eat as many as possible and fortunately there were enough teenage boys to accommodate that order by drill-Sergeant-Ad-Man.
To avoid a latke coma, the adults would percolate (read: before the invention of drip and kitchen espresso machines) gallons of hot coffee and the children would stuff sweets into their faces to get that sugar rush necessary to offset the piles of oil used to fry the latkes. We’d light the menorah, apparently cross-culturally since one of us was wearing a 1950’s version of a sombrero (photo evidence above) and then we would dig into the enormous pile of white-tissue-paper -blue-ribbon-wrapped gifts. Back then the heap was higher than I was tall so it seemed like a magical mountain of loot. Everyone exchanged little trinkets; stationary, key chains, pens, homemade doll clothes or mittens.
There is not a Hanukkah that goes by where I don’t pull out those old photos and remember the parties with great affection as well as the suggestible need for a bottle of Tums as I get older. The current generation of men-folk still takes on the latke making, but these days we recreate them gluten free with bottomless applesauce and sour cream.
And these days, right along with Hanukkah celebrating, we seamlessly move to gathering those candy canes, holiday cookies, trimming a tree and hanging stockings. We just refer to it as our multi heritage holiday making.
And no holiday season is complete without that familiar heaping platter of fabulous latkes, gluten free latkes.
Makes about 15 latkes. Heat oven to warm, about 175 degrees. Line a baking sheet with layers of paper towels.
- 3 huge russets
- 1 onion
- 60 grams (1/3 cup) brown rice flour
- 3 large eggs whisked
- Salt and pepper to taste (be generous)
- Veggie, peanut or other high heat oil (enough to maintain about ¼ inch in the fry pan)
- Sour cream
- Tums (optional)
Peel potatoes, cut in half and place in cold water (to keep them from turning brown). Peel skin off onion and cut in half. Use grater setting on food processor and alternately push through potato and onion.
Mix the shredded stuff in a bowl and take half and put in the food processor with the cutting blade this time, and finely mush it up. Place it all in a colander (inside a larger bowl) lined with a clean dish towel and squeeze the life out of the potato/onion mixture to get the liquid out. It will be messy, but keep going until they are pretty dry.
Empty out the liquid. Dump the dry potato/onion mixture into the bowl and add in the flour and eggs and seasoning. Mix well.
Heat the oil until a tiny bit of the mixture sizzles when dropped in. Scoop about ¼ cup for each pancake, smash into round-ish patties and fry over medium heat until nicely browned and flip – same for the other side. (If the oil is not hot enough, the potatoes will absorb the oil and just be greasy – and if the oil is too hot, the potatoes will be black on the outside and the inside will be raw)
Place finished latkes on the paper towel lined cookie sheet in a 175 degree oven to keep warm while finishing up the 300 other latkes.
Serve warm topped with sour cream and applesauce. Stuff yourselves silly! Light that menorah, and if you are so inclined, hang those stockings on the fireplace.