The informant is my film partner (referred to as MR) who has a Jewish mother and was raised Jewish. This is the recipe his Jewish grandmother has passed down for Matzo Ball Soup. He said his grandmother was living in Florida before she passed, despite having lived most of her life in New Jersey in a primarily Jewish community. He says, Matzo Ball Soup is a Jewish dish served at Passover.
Ingredients (taken down from a handwritten note in the recipe book):
- 4 large eggs
- ¼ cup “schmaltz” rendered chicken fat or coconut oil
- ¼ cup chicken stock
- 1 cup matzo meal
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 to 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
- 1 teaspoon Allspice
MR: “While the recipe is written down, my grandmother has it memorized and tells me the directions by heart. I can’t make it by heart, but I know the directions she has told me several times while I watch her in the kitchen.”
The informant then looks at the recipe to remind himself of the steps.
MR: She told me to put the eggs, schmaltz, chicken stock, matzo, ginger, nutmeg, and parsley in a large bowl. And then add in the salt and Allspice. Mix a little with a spoon, and cover and then place in the refrigerator overnight.
I remember her holding up a deep brown pan and saying to put the matzo balls in a pan with salted water in order to boil. With wet hands— they have to be wet— take some of the mix and mold it into the size of a golf ball. Put them in boiling water and leave it for about 40 minutes. Then you put them in the soup, that’s it!”
I think this recipe is mainly interesting because it is recalled by heart by his grandmother. This shows how ingrained in the culture Matzo Ball Soup is. For his family and many Jewish families, Matzo Ball soup is a form of folklore in the sense that it is passed down through generations and verbally spoken and memorized. It is sacred in the sense that it commemorates a religious celebration (Passover).
The informant is my film partner (referred to as MR) who has a Jewish mother and was raised Jewish. This is a song his Jewish grandmother has the family sing before the dinner service of Passover.
There’s No Seder Like our Seder
There’s no seder like our seder,
There’s no seder I know.
Everything about it is Halachic
nothing that the Torah won’t allow.
Listen how we read the whole Haggadah
It’s all in Hebrew
‘Cause we know how.
There’s no Seder like our seder,
We tell a tale that is swell:
Moses took the people out into the heat
They baked the matzoh
While on their feet
Now isn’t that a story
That just can’t be beat?
Let’s go on with the show!
MR: “We sing this song to the tune of “There’s no Business like Show business,” and my grandma had them printed on a twice photocopied piece of paper that she stores in this big bin that only comes out of the closet during Passover. So we all sing this right before the meal of Passover.”
This song is very interesting because it is sung to the tune of a song that is obviously not Jewish which also means that while this is a family tradition this may not be a widespread Jewish cultural tradition. At least this song being sung to the tune of “There’s no Business like Show business,” means that this is not carried down for centuries and is a modern twist on perhaps a more historically grounded Jewish song. The act of singing before a meal is also interesting because it shows the meal is much more of a celebration than other events.
The informant is my film partner (referred to as MR) who has a Jewish mother who apparently loves jokes and riddles. The informant grew up hearing this riddle and never being able to solve it and now tells this riddle all the time. His mother learned it when she was younger from her father when they lived in Cherry Hill, NJ.
This is the riddle:
Q: Name three consecutive days without using these words: Monday…….Tuesday…….Wednesday…….Thursday……Friday.
A: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow!
MR: “What makes this riddle successful is the misdirection in the instructions. The trickery comes from the word “days,” because your mind goes to the names of the days of the week. Once you know the trick the riddle is super obvious. I think it is funny we always tell this riddle to dinner party members if they haven’t joined us before or if I meet someone new.”
I think the context of this riddle is particularly interesting. This riddle seems to be a running joke within his family and whenever a new member joins the dinner table or party, the riddle is told. It is almost a rite of passage and way to prove yourself to the rest of the family or members of the party. Like the informant stated, once you know the answer, the riddle is painfully obvious and so people who know the answer are all in on the joke, while they wait for the answer. It is almost an initiation.
The informant is my friend (referred to as EP) who is from Brooklyn, New York, but lives in Spain for the summer. Her father is from Spain and her mother is from Puerto Rico. Every year when she goes to Spain she lives on her family ranch that is outside of a town called Porto. She described a special religious holiday that entails all the small towns in the area coming together to celebrate.
EP: “Every year in May everyone wakes up at like 6 A.M all of the small villages in the area hike up a huge mountain carrying the virgins of the town up to the top of the mountain. So basically it takes the whole village to get to the top of the mountain because they are carrying the virgins.”
CI: “The virgins meaning..?”
EP: “Oh the villages each carry large statues of Virgin Mary. And then we walk all the way up this huge mountain and then when they get to the top the virgins meet… I mean all the men holding up the statues do kind of like a dance with the Virgin Mary statues, like kind of introducing all of them. It’s like 3 seconds for each village. “
And then basically it’s like 8 AM and we just celebrate. So we put Spanish donuts in red wine and drink at like 8:30 and we eat a lot of octopus.
No one has ever really told me what it’s for or why we do that in May and what the significance is but it’s just something we’ve been doing forever.”
I find this particularly interesting because not only does it seem like a very sacred and difficult day, but it tells a lot about the culture. People start drinking early on in order to celebrate a very sacred religious holiday. I believe the feasting is a way of praising religion and it is also interesting that after all of these years, the informant does not really know what the event is for. Despite this festival returning every year, the significance has never been explained, meaning they probably don’t discuss the holiday’s meeting at the festival. Therefore, this seems more like a passed down tradition rather than a sacred holiday.
The informant is my friend (referred to as EP) who is from Brooklyn, New York, but lives in Spain for the summer. Her father is from Spain and her mother is from Puerto Rico. Every year when she goes to Spain she lives on her family ranch that is outside of a town called Porto. She is discussing one of her favorite movies and a movie that is highly regarded in Spain, “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” and a conspiracy theory that was developed in Spain about the movie.
EP: “So in the movie, it’s all these women who are crazy and obsessed with all these men and they are having all these problems and throughout the whole movie gazpacho is a theme and ultimately the main character tries to kill a bunch of men with drug-laced gazpacho. The theory that a bunch of people came up with is that all the women are actually witches and the gazpacho kind of resembles one of their potions. It’s kind of a myth I guess but it’s like they are practicing witchcraft and making spells that kill men.”
This is so fascinating to me because after viewing “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” I know that this is one of the world’s most campy films. It is often used among scholars as the example for describing the style of camp in films. Witchcraft is a type of folklore that is already highly gendered and what I have noticed is nearly all witch movies are extremely campy. Females who are somehow outside of the box society creates for them, often become categorized as witches. Campiness is the style of nearly all films centered around witches and this is due to the fact that camp perfectly captures the inherent sexism and absurdity of the idea that powerful females are witches. Camp is able to employ qualities of duality and idiosyncrasies that are open to a double interpretation. There is a certain language that camp uses and it allows patriarchal code and codes of oppression to be debunked. To understand camp, the viewer must have some outside knowledge of the pre-existing codes of oppression. So, therefore, in witch movies camp is heavily employed and shows women as extravagant and over the top characters. So the fact that many people in Spain believe “women on the verge,” the trademark movie for camp, is actually about witches makes a lot of sense and shows how people in Spain (and in society) perceive women portrayed a certain way as “witches.”