Hello everyone and happy Hanukkah!
Tonight is the eighth and last night of Hanukkah but my first night of celebration as I’ve been traveling.
After much deliberation I’ve decided to review Marilyn Hirsch’s Hanukkah tale: Potato Pancakes all Around. Other contenders were The Magic Dreidels by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Katya Krenina, and Herschell and the Hanukkah Goblins also by Eric A. Kimmel. I really do love the story of the Hanukkah goblins but unfortunately can’t find my copy and would like to get this post up today.
Hirsch’s story is evidently based on the folk tale of stone soup. I’ll briefly summarize stone soup, a tale that has been retold hundreds of times and has no identifiable author – it probably started in the oral tradition of tale telling. One night a group of hungry soldiers walk to a town but the townspeople are reluctant to feed them. No one wants to waste food or warmth on soldiers who will surely eat them out of house and home. The soldiers are greeted again and again with, “no, we don’t have any food!” That is until one soldier catches everyone’s interest by his claim that he can make delicious soup from stones. Of course, everyone is intrigued but also disbelieving. As the soldier takes a stone from his pocket and plunks it in a pot of boiling water everyone waits with anticipation and doubt. The soup, the soldier claims, is starting to cook … but… it needs something. Maybe… a carrot? Someone quickly produces a carrot. Now the soup is almost perfect… except it would be even better with a piece of chicken, suggests the soldier. I’m sure at this point you get the picture . The townspeople all slowly add an ingredient and soon enough, to everyone’s amazement, a delicious soup is bubbling away and everyone eats and celebrates together.
Much like the story of stone soup, Potato Pancakes all Around begins with Samuel the peddler. Samuel is alone, cold, and walking down a road towards a village on the first night of Hanukkah.
Samuel knocks on the door of a house belonging to a family about to start their preparations for their Hanukkah dinner. He is invited in. Grandma Yetta and Grandma Sophie are quarreling at the stove over whose latke recipe is better and which one they should make.
“Who needs recipes?” said Samuel the peddler. “I’ll show you how to make potato pancakes from a crust of bread!”
Grandma Yetta and Grandma Sophie call the peddler crazy but the twins are hungry so they begin to make Samuel’s recipe. Mama and Papas children, other than Sarah and David, go unnamed but a set of twins, one boy, three girls, and a baby all populate the text.
First, Samuel produces a crust of bread and a bowl from his sack and carefully grates the bread into the bowl. Samuel adds water and tastes the batter and suggests that some people might prefer it with some salt and pepper. Papa adds the seasoning to the bowl.
“Samuel noticed a chicken looking in the window. ‘I think this chicken is trying to tell me something. But what could a chicken say?’
‘I know!’ cried Rachel. ‘The chicken is telling you to add eggs.’
‘I have heard of that,’ agreed the peddler. And he added six eggs.
‘He takes advice from chickens,’ said Grandma Yetta.
‘Do you have any suggestions?’ he asked her politely.
‘May you grow like an onion with your head in the ground!’ she shouted.
‘Ah, onions! A good idea,’ said Samuel.
So David hurried to chop some onions.
Eventually all the ingredient go into the bowl and the whole family plus Samuel the peddler sit down at the table to eat. Everyone, including Grandma Yetta and Grandma Sophie, agree that these latkes made from a crust of bread are the best they’ve ever tasted.
The text is simple yet full of life while the pictures buzz with the hustle and bustle of a large family during the holidays. The illustrations in this picture book are primarily brown and yellow, which can’t help but remind me of latkes and candlelight. Just like latkes, the illustrations are deliciously appropriate for a snowy night and convey the atmosphere of a household celebrating Hannukah filled with warmth and potatoes.
This is a story that captures the spirit of Hannukah but not just that. Potato Pancakes all Around is part of a tradition of stories and storytelling that encompass the important messages of life. These are stories of generosity, friendship, love, and, most importantly, food.
The picture book ends perfectly, with a latke recipe.
There are millions of Latke recipes out there and you can find all kinds of variations online. All the latke recipes I’ve ever seen are vegetarian though you can cook them in goose or chicken fat as they do in Hirsch’s book. There are also plenty of vegan recipes out there which I’ll be attempting tonight for the first time.
This is a tried and true family recipe that we make every year.
Mom’s Potato Pancakes
Serves 6, depending on appetites.
2 large eggs, beaten
4 to 5 large potatoes, peeled and grated
1 medium onion, peeled and grated
1/4 cup matzoh meal
salt and pepper to taste
vegetable oil for frying ( I use olive oil or a mix of canola/olive oil)
1. In a large bowl, combine eggs, potatoes and onion.
2. Blend in matzoh meal, salt and pepper
3. heat 1-inch layer of oil in a large frying pan. Drop in 1 tablespoon
of mixture for each latke. Turn over when crisp and golden.
4. Drain on paper towels.
5. If you’re making a large batch, preheat the oven to 200 degrees to keep them warm and crisp until eaten.
6. Serve with generous helpings of sour cream and applesauce.