Hanukkah, the festival of lights, began on Dec. 7, at sundown. Janet Barnett invited a group of friends to her home in Alexandria to learn to make latkes.
“Latkes are traditionally served at Hanukkah,” Barnett told her audience. Three seventh -rade girls who attend George Washington Middle School were about to make this traditional food.
“I don’t think I ever made them because my mother, being a very good Jewish mother, was afraid I would get burned from the hot oil,” Barnett said.
The girls grated potatoes and mixed them with onion, flour and eggs. Then, they made them into small pancakes and fried them for a short time in very hot oil. They served them with apple sauce and sour cream.
“The latkes are eaten because of the oil,” Barnett said. “It’s symbolic of the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days for the Maccabees.”
HANUKKAH IS CELEBRATED for eight days and eight nights, starting on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, which is some time in November or December on the Gregorian calendar. The word “Hanukkah” means dedication. The holiday commemorates the rededication of the holy temple in Jerusalem after the Jews’ 165 BCE victory over the Hellenist Syrians. Antiochus, the Greek king of Syria, outlawed Jewish rituals and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods. While some Jews obeyed, others fought back.
The fighting began in a village not far from Jerusalem. Greek soldiers assembled the villagers and asked them to bow to a Greek God and eat the flesh of a pig. One Jewish high priest, Mattathias, refused to participate. When a villager offered to take his place, Mattathias took out his sword and killed the Greek officer and the villager. His five sons and the other villagers then attacked the soldiers and killed them.
Mattathias’ families went into hiding in the mountains and were joined by many other Jews. They fought a guerilla-type war for about a year.
Finally, Mattathias died. Just before his death, he put his son, Judah Maccabee in charge of the growing Jewish army. After three years of fighting, this army defeated the Greeks.
Judah Maccabee and his soldiers went to the holy temple and were distressed to see many holy items missing or destroyed, including the golden Menorah. They cleaned and repaired the temple and planned a dedication ceremony.
For the celebration, the Maccabees wanted to light the Menorah. They looked for oil but found only a small flask containing enough for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days. This gave them enough time to find sufficient oil to keep the Menorah lit.
“We light candles every night to remember this miracle,” Barnett said.
The Menorah that her family uses was made by her daughter. It is ceramic and is engraved with the Hebrew words “Light a candle for Hanukkah.”
Hanukkah has changed over the years. “When I was very young, we received very small presents,” said Barbara Ross, who joined the celebration at Barnett’s home. “Now, people give much larger presents in keeping with Christmas traditions.”
THERE ARE FAMILIES who celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah – Christmukkah, according to devotees of the television series “The O.C.” Sloane Siegel’s father is Jewish, her mother, Christian.
“We celebrate both,” Sloane said. “I make latkes every year with my mom. We have a Christmas tree and a Menorah. I’ve always celebrated both,” she said.
As a child, Barnett received small gifts every night of Hanukkah. Things are different now that she has a family of her own.
“Everyone makes a list and gives it to me,” she said. “This year, my son and husband are getting what they asked for. I asked for liposuction,” she said.
Before Hanukkah, she wraps all of the presents and puts them under the parson’s table in her living room. Each night, every member of the family gets to open one present. She doesn’t know if that gift certificate for liposuction is going to be under the parson’s table but she is hoping for the best.
Alison McEnearney was the only one of the GW girls who had never made latkes. “I tasted them once in second grade when someone brought them to school,” she said. “This is fun,”
The latkes were perfect, as were the Hanukkah cookies, found at Safeway. “It’s amazing and really great that Hanukkah items are so readily available,” Barnett said.
As the festival begins, Barnett will make more latkes and will serve her family brisket. “We will be a bit festive by eating on blue and white Hanukkah plates,” she said.
Barbara Ross, who is Jewish, isn’t doing anything other than the party to celebrate Hanukkah this year. “It really isn’t one of the high holy days but it is a happy celebration,” she said.
<lst>Jewish or not, here’s a recipe for latkes. They can be made with potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, zucchini or some combination of the above. This recipe is for potato latkes.
5 large potatoes peeled
1 large onion
1/3 cup flour
1 tsp. Salt
1¼ tsp. Pepper
1¾ cup oil for frying
Use: 10-inch skillet
Yields: 4 to 6 servings
Grate potatoes and onion on the fine side of a grater, or in a food processor; or put in a blender with a little water.
Strain grated potatoes and onion through a colander, pressing out excess water. Add eggs, flour, and seasoning. Mix well.
Heat 1½ cup oil in skillet. Lower flame and place 1 large tablespoon batter at a time into hot sizzling oil and fry on one side for approximately 5 minutes or until golden brown. Turn over and fry on other side 2 to 3 minutes.
Remove from pan and place on paper towels to drain excess oil. Continue with remaining batter until used up, adding more oil when necessary.
Serve with applesauce on the side.
Variation: Zucchini or Carrot Latkes: Substitute 5 medium zucchini or 5 medium carrots for potatoes.
Excerpted From: Spice and Spirit, the Complete Kosher Cookbook