All hail the latke!

1 Dec

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah! This makes me happy. Presents, candles, prayers I can never remember, dreidels and…latkes. Latkes are yummy.

What’s a latke, you may ask. Latkes are  fried potato pancakes. They are a traditional Hanukkah food, along with gelt, which is like chocolate money (awesome in theory; not so good in taste) and jelly donuts (don’t ask). While I don’t quite understand why latkes are typically served at Hanukkah, my best guess is this–nothing symbolizes an 8 day miracle quite like fried potatoes and onions. 

Yummy, golden fried goodness

Whatever the reason behind why latkes are a traditional Hanukkah becomes, for me, a moot point once I bite into one and taste all the fried potatoey goodness. There is nothing quite like a latke. And we Jews love them! At my sleep-away camp, we had latkes for lunch once a week. My family would eat them at virtually every Jewish holiday. We did so for only one reason–my great-grandmother was a master latke maker. Her latkes were ridiculously amazing. So good, in fact, that I never saw a plate of them last more than 5 minutes. So good, in fact, that all of us would hover around the toaster and/or oven, waiting for them to be warmed up so we could descend on them like vultures. So good, in fact, that sometimes we didn’t even wait for them to be warmed up; we’d just eat them cold. 

Since she’s passed, my entire family has spent countless minutes trying to figure out what she did that made her latkes so amazing (I think that somehow blood and skin may have gotten into the latkes, giving it that certain je ne sais quoi but the rest of my family seems to disagree. I’m not sure why…). And, to this day, no one has been able to replicate what she did. Believe me, we have tried. And tried. And tried.

You see, there’s one small problem with latkes. They are either amazingly, insanely good or they’re terrible. There’s really no in-between. When you’ve had latkes as good as my great-grandma used to make them, all other latkes suck by comparison. It really is a shame. But, on the flip side, there’s this–latkes are like pizza. Even if they’re bad, they’re still pretty good. Because a bad latke is better than no latke at all.

While I wish I had an earth-moving latke recipe to share with you, sadly, I don’t. I do, however, have a little song that I wrote (just sing it to the tune of “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel”:

Verse 1–I have a little latke,

I fried it in a pan,

And when it’s hot and crispy,

I’ll eat up all I can!

Chorus–Oh, latke, latke, latke,

I fried it in a pan,

And when it’s hot and crispy,

I’ll eat up all I can!

Verse 2–It’s has a lovely body,

A shape so large and round,

Latkes are so delicous,

I’ll even eat one from the ground!


 Happy Hanukkah!


8 Responses to “All hail the latke!”

  1. Robyn Berman December 1, 2010 at 6:17 pm #

    JB, you’re on a roll this week!!

    I am, however, slightly concerned… first you become the crazy cat lady and now little jingles are just popping in your head!

    Hmmm, the last one we’ll let slide and just call “An ode to Grandma Fanny.” Who did, in her perfection of the latke, ruin all others. Forever.

    With that said, she will always be a fond and indelible memory of Hannukah… Thanks Grandma Fanny 🙂

    How did she always get her hair to stay so perfectly in that barrette?

    • theemptykitchen December 2, 2010 at 8:46 am #

      if you’re concerned now, just wait. there’s all kinds of things brewing in my head.

      i keep hoping that there’s a grandma fanny latke stash somewhere. so far, no luck.

  2. Barb @ 1 Sentence Diary December 2, 2010 at 1:42 pm #

    Ah yes, the curse of “grandma’s latkes.” I know many a family that has such a curse. Why is it that we can never make latkes that live up to those in our memories?

    My secret is a little baking powder in the batter. It gives the latkes a lightness that they would otherwise lack. But I’m sure you’ve tried that already.

    My mother used to say the same thing you did about the blood — well, OK, she never said “je ne sais quoi”, but she did say that latkes are just not the same now that we have food processors rather than grating the potatoes laboriously by hand.

    Why do we celebrate for 8 days? Because there are at least 8 ways to spell it…

    Happy Chanukah Hanukah Channukah Hannukah Chanukkah Hanukkah Chanuka Hanukka!

    • theemptykitchen December 2, 2010 at 2:00 pm #

      no, i have not tried baking powder! totally worth a shot, though. way more sanitary and a lot less cannibalistic than blood!

  3. Barb @ 1 Sentence Diary December 2, 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    I’ll post my recipe on my blog later this week, if you’d like. 🙂 Basically potatoes, onions, egg, flour, baking powder, and oil. Lots of oil.

    Why so much oil? Because of the miracle of Chanukah — the oil for the “eternal light” in the Temple, only enough for one day, miraculously lasted for 8 days, until more could be brought. (Well, if you believe that sort of thing.)

  4. adventuresofpretendcook December 2, 2010 at 8:03 pm #

    Happy Hanukkah! Maybe your grandmother made them with extra love. That always makes food more tasty. 🙂

    • theemptykitchen December 2, 2010 at 8:29 pm #

      that could be it. never thought of it that way!

      • Robyn Berman December 2, 2010 at 8:49 pm #

        @JB….you’ve now added cannibalistic to the list. I’m officially concerned about what’s brewing in that head of yours!

        I have a feeling Scott is going to have to wear that chicken suit again…. for something. Tell him I recommend being on best behavior 🙂


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