The Chronicle

Passover. Few Jewish families left in Lewis County to celebrate

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Posted: Wednesday, April 9, 2003 12:00 am

Passover is the most labor-intensive holiday there is in Judaism, said Harold Schwartz, a retired English teacher who lives in Chehalis with his wife, Joanne.

The Schwartzes are among a handful of Jewish families left in this area. When asked if he knows other Jewish families in the local area, Schwartz said, "My brother — and he isn't here most of the year."

Schwartz and his family attended Temple Adath Israel in Centralia until the synagogue, built in 1931, was closed in 1991 with only seven members still in attendance.

Members of the synagogue shut the doors, removed two large stained glass windows (now displayed in another Washington state synagogue), and sold the building.

As he was growing up, Schwartz had always taken Passover meals for granted. He learned the hard way — after his mother died — just how much work there is to preparing for such a meal.

Schwartz cannot remember a time when he did not cook. He believes his mother was influential in his early interest in cooking — an interest that has expanded over the years.

"I always baked desserts. Now I cook everything," said Schwartz, who does most of the family cooking now that he is retired and Joanne is still working as director of community services for the city of Chehalis.

Today, Schwartz also does the majority of the Passover cooking. This year, because he's visiting one of his sons, he'll be taking Passover matzah brownies and orange fluff cake.

"This holiday requires the most cooking, baking and cleaning up of all Jewish holidays. To prepare for the Passover Seder meal, you must begin nearly a week in advance shopping and preparing the foods which have become customarily served," said Schwartz.

There are thousands of Passover recipes and, depending upon where the family originated in the world, there are differences in the foods served. No matter what differences there are, however, they are all alike in that they do not contain any flour or rising agents.

Most of the Passover recipes will require many eggs, usually separated, because the egg whites, when beaten into stiff peaks, provide the rising action needed in the recipe.

All of the baking, and most of the Passover recipes, require matzah meal or cake flour.

"Unfortunately," said Schwartz, "these products are not widely available in this area. They can be found in grocery stores in the larger cities like Tacoma, Olympia and Seattle."

The Schwartzes and other Jewish families eat matzah — a flat cracker made exclusively for Passover — during the eight-day Passover season.

Matzah contains no white flour and no rising agents. It can be eaten plain, fried with eggs or onions, or toasted and served with jam or peanut butter.

By itself, matzah is rather flat tasting, but when eaten in conjunction with other foods, "it is quite good," said Schwartz.

Making matzah without causing fermentation is hard for the average cook to accomplish. It can be done by three means: protecting the ingredients from moisture and heat prior to mixing; preparing the dough very rapidly; and baking it at extremely high temperatures.

Matzah flour must be absolutely dry and stored in a cool, dark place. According to the strictest interpretation, the flour should be watched from the time of reaping to ascertain that it is never exposed to moisture. A more lenient view of the Passover suggests it is sufficient to watch the flour from the time of milling.

To make matzah for Passover, one needs to make certain the boards, rolling pins and other utensils are also kosher-for-Passover. In order to reach the prescribed temperatures of 600 to 800 degrees F., it is probably necessary to use baker's ovens — something most people don't have in their homes.

The matzah is placed in the oven with long wooden poles, and should be considered done in two or three minutes.

The total time elapsed time in making matzah, from the beginning of the kneading until being placed in the oven, should be no more than 18 minutes to prevent fermentation. After baking is completed, a small portion of the matzah is separated, blessed, and then burned up completely. The result? Brown, crisp matzah, suitable for eating at the Seder.

Today, many Jewish families, such as the Schwartzes, purchase matzah flour that is already milled and packaged from stores selling kosher-for-Passover products.

"Foods customarily served during Passover are excellent, but some require a developed taste. If one has high cholesterol, this is not a healthy time of year," said Schwartz with a laugh.

Chicken Soup

4 to 5 pounds stewing chicken,

cut into pieces

12

cups cold water

2

onions, cut in quarters

12

sprigs parsley

3

stalks celery, cut into pieces

4

carrots, cut into thirds

pepper and salt to taste

Place chicken and water into a large pot and bring to a boil, then turn to low. Remove the white foam with a slotted spoon. Add the onion, parsley, celery and carrots and cover the pot. Continue to cook on low to medium heat. After one hour, turn off the heat and allow the soup to cool slightly. Then strain the soup. Dice the cooked carrot into the soup for color. Add pepper and salt to taste. Refrigerate the soup overnight, then remove the fat that has formed on the top and discard.

Passover Bagels

2/3

cup water

1/3

cup oil

1

cup matzah meal

3

large eggs

water

Combine the water and oil in a 11/2- to 2-quart pan. Bring to boiling on high heat, uncovered. Dump in the matzah all at once and stir vigorously until evenly moistened. Remove from heat and let stand until cool to the touch.

Add the eggs to the mixture one at a time, beating until well blended after each addition.

Divide the dough into 8 portions. (It will be very sticky!) Moisten hands with water and roll each portion into a ball. Space balls well apart on a greased cookie sheet. To form the bagel, dip your thumb in water, then make a hole in the center of each dough round.

Bake at 375 until lightly browned and crisp (40 to 45 minutes). Serve hot or cold. They will keep overnight in a refrigerator, or freeze for a longer period.

Passover Matzah Balls

4

eggs, beaten together

1/3

cup oil

1

cup matzah meal

1

teaspoon salt

1/2

cup water

pepper to taste

Beat together the eggs and oil. Add slowly the matzah meal, salt, pepper and water to the liquid mixture. Refrigerate overnight. Form into balls and drop into boiling water. Cook in boiling water for 20 minutes.

Passover Brownies

4

eggs

3/4

cup oil

2

cups sugar

1

cup nuts, optional

1/2

cup Hershey's chocolate

1

cup matzah cake flour

Beat together all ingredients. Bake into a greased 13-by-9-inch pan at 325 for 20 to 25 minutes. Do not overcook!

Passover Orange Fluff Cake

7

eggs, separated

11/2

cups sugar

1/2

cup orange juice

juice of 1/2 lemon

1

cup matzah meal cake flour

Beat egg yolks until light colored. Add sugar gradually, then orange and lemon juice. Fold matzah cake flour into egg yolk mixture. Beat egg whites until stiff. Fold into the egg/flour mixture gently. Bake in ungreased tube pan at 325 for 50 minutes. Invert pan while cake cools.

Pat Jones covers arts and entertainment and lifestyle stories for The Chronicle. She may be reached by e-mail at pjones@chronline.com, or by telephoning 807-8226.

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