The informant is a caucasian female in her 50s. She was born and raised in England. She, and her three siblings, were raised as orthodox jews. After university, the informant moved to Northern California for graduate school. She later moved to Los Angeles, where she now resides. The informant trained in school as a biologist, but switched to journalism and now works for a large newspaper. She is divorced with one child.
Following are two recipes for traditional jewish dishes.
The informant learned this recipe for latkes from a Jewish women’s group at a synagogue in Los Angeles. She learned it soon after she was married when in her late 20s. She makes them only during Hanukkah. As a child, her mother would make latkes, but of a different sort. Her mother made matzoh meal latkes and served them with fried fish. These latkes were served at both Hanukkah and Passover. The informant was taught to make matzoh meal latkes by her mother, but when she tried to on her own she accidentally compressed air inside the meal and they exploded upon cooing. The informant decided to learn how to make potato latkes after having them at various friends houses during Hanukkah. She found the potato latkes to be delicious and purposefully asked the women’s group at the synagogue for the recipe.
Recipe: Peel regular potatoes. Grate. Put in colander and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for ½ hour. Squeeze out excess moisture. Put in a bowl. Add 1-2 eggs. Add a finely chopped onion. Add a little flour. Mix together. Heat oil in frying pan, ½ inch deep. When oil is hot, add spoonfuls of latke mix. Pres flat into patties. Fry until crispy on one side, flip, and fry until crispy on other side. Remove from pan. Drain on towel to remove excess oil. Keep warm in oven until ready to eat, but not heaped on top of each other so they don’t get soft. Serve with sour cream and apple sauce.
Charoset is a traditional part of the passover meal, representing the mortar the enslaved Israelites used to build the pyramids in Egypt. The informant learned the recipe from her mother. Her three siblings and she would all participate in the preparation of the charoset, which would usually take place on the first day of passover. They would make enough for both nights of passover. Leftovers would be eaten on matzoh in the days after passover. The informant learned to make charoset at a very young age, in grade school. During preparation, her siblings would have competitions to see who could peel the whole apple in one string. The apple peels would sometimes be consumed as a snack during the making of the charoset. Whenever the informant makes charoset she remembers passover as a child and her mother cleaning the whole house and preparing all of the food for the meal. It brings back fond and fun memories of the communal and family aspect of the passover service.
Recipe: Take tart green apples and peel. Course grate. Put in bowl. Take walnuts and grind them using a metal table top wheel grinder, or another appropriate method. Mix walnuts with apples. Add red wine to get a reddish color and mushy consistency. Add some sugar to taste, or honey. Adjust proportions of ingredients until it tastes right. Put it in fridge until ready.
Analysis: In both of these recipes it is not so much the ingredients that matter, but the connotations of the dishes themselves and the memories they invoke. In many examples of foodways there is not only no specific memory, but it is the tradition behind the food, the passing of recipe down through the years, that has the most significance. As to ingredients, the informant did not have exact recipes for either dish, making both to taste and from memory. Every time she makes each dish it changes. What remains are the memories associated with the dishes. Both are associated with family and tradition, as each dish was only made at a time of gathering, initiated by Jewish custom. To her, the two dishes represent a special time of year when her family gathered together to celebrate. Part of what makes these associations so strong is the fact that both dishes are only served at specific times of year. The feelings that the making and eating of charoset and latkes invoke are stronger because the activities are done only on the two high holidays, and so the specialness is not diluted through continuous repetition throughout the year.