’Tis the season for those crispy, golden rounds, the ones with the lacy edges that yield a satisfying crunch that gives way to a toothsome potato and egg center with just the right bite of pungent onion and a sprinkle of kosher salt. You know, the ones we could sniff, and almost taste, even before we opened the door to Grandma’s cramped apartment, the ones she fried by the dozens for the kinderlach, letting the lucky ones who arrived early nibble on the scraps left behind in the heavy iron skillet.
And, then later, the ones that my mother made in her suburban kitchen, on her 1950s era range, sizzling in a modern aluminum fry pan as my sisters and I waited hungrily for that first taste of the delectable holiday treats. We gobbled them up, despite greasy fingers, and begged for just one more, even before we got to the table.
So what did I do one cold wintry day so many years ago, as the days shortened and Hanukkah neared, and I found myself far from home and hungrily craving latkes? I called my mom.
She quickly ticked off the ingredients — potatoes, eggs, matzah meal, salt — then walked me through the preparation, scrubbing, peeling, grating, seasoning, frying. She cautioned me to drain off the starch from the grated potatoes to preserve their snowy whiteness, to splash just so much oil in the pan, to patiently let it heat until it bubbled to just the right temperature to drop in spoonfuls of the mix, then wait until just the right moment to carefully turn the latkes to cook through.
We needed no help as to what to do next.
Slathered with chunky applesauce redolent with cinnamon, or, crowned with a dollop of tart sour cream, the way my husband’s family preferred them, they disappeared as fast as we fried them.
As the years gave way to food processors and new cooking techniques, not to mention the multiplicity of recipes, taking latke making to dizzying culinary heights, I still stick with the hand grated, potato and onion variety. Somehow, zucchini, beet, corn or spinach pancakes don’t do it for me, not even sweet potato. At least not yet.
But I know that recipes can change, as do times, and that if we are lucky, our families grow, so that now my daughter will be making latkes in her kitchen tonight, and it will be her kids begging for just one more hot pancake from the pan.
And with a new little warm and pink bundle welcomed to our son and daughter-in-law last week, there is the promise of more kitchens to come at this time of the year with a whiff of onion and a fry pan crackling with hot oil, of more Hanukkahs to come with latkes to eat, and the prospect of new, and more delicious, takes on the holiday.
And whether with sugary or piquant toppings, it doesn’t get much sweeter than that.