I used to think Pesach memories were made out of potato starch and eggs.
What’s Pesach if not the dry textured crisp of matzah between your teeth; faltsha fish sweet and aromatic with white pepper; papery egg noodles in golden soup? Bobby’s nut cake moist and airy like a cloud and packed with crunchy walnuts; glistening chunks of potatoes dipped in salt water (as close to a k’zayis as possible please). And everyone’s favorite sandwich — the womenfolk all good granddaughters of our maror-loving Bubby reach for the plate of maror and scoff at the measly amounts piled onto the lettuce by unknowing husbands.
I thought Pesach was about Mommy’s kitchen glinting with foil warm with blazing ovens and joy. Frying latkes until my cheeks flush from the heat while Sister 1 sneaks the crispiest pieces into waiting little hands Sister-in-law peels potatoes and Sister 2 makes Pesachdig lukshen: crack whip pour flip repeat. The early spring breeze wafting into the pungent aromas the crsh-crsh of hand-grating potatoes until your fingers are raw banter and sautéed onions and colorful Magna Tiles strewn everywhere.
But then a friend visited one Pesach morning. She took in the creamy brown potatoes nestled between pieces of caramelized chicken the hiss and crackle of the flame as latkes crisped. Then she smiled almost wistful and told me “You know I love your mother’s house. It’s always so calm.”
It struck me then that it’s not the food that makes the memories. It’s the calm.
For some the thought of Pesach unspools reams of dread or frenzy or tense list-making and planning. For my mother there are very few cheshbonos. She cleans for Pesach whenever she finds the time earlier is better of course but it’ll all get done in the end not to worry. It’s great when kashering takes place a few days before Seder nacht but it’s happened on bedikas chometz night in the past with no one the worse for wear.
We all love making nice plans so my mother and I spend plenty of time going through the glossy Pesach recipe sections in the magazines deliberating. Mommy often does create the crepes and pies and mousses or whatever masterpieces strike her fancy. But only if there’s time. And patience.
She likes to have the soup falsha fish and compote for all of Yom Tov cooked and frozen in advance and she usually does but there were times when her first chance to do all this came on Erev Pesach morning when the birds chirp and the smell of fire wafts through the windows. So only the minimum was made.
“You’re not annoyed that you’ll have to be cooking all of this again during Yom Tov?” I ask her. My mother smiles and shrugs. “Not at all.”
Pesach comes and we spend lots of time in the kitchen but also on the couch on the porch and around the table. We peel and fry and cook but also read and daven and play and always there’s the twinkle of serenity sweeping past the sizzling kitchen the toy-strewn dining room settling over the house like a lacy coverlet.
The seudos are always beautiful in the end. The table is set and glistening the toys packed away the food plentiful and delicious. There’s Pesach there’s goodies and there’s peace.
So yes this is an ode to my mother who has enough energy and love and creativity but most of all patience to fill all of her industrial-sized Pesach pots. Who has grand plans for herself her family for Pesach yet also keeps them in check beneath the enormous blanket of tranquility and kindness with which she envelops us all.
Plans are nice and good but nothing is a must and everything is okay the way it ends up being; Pesach cleaning meal-planning and also grades gowns and how many hours she got to sleep. We her kids are all perfect and incredible and gifts to humanity if you ask her and if she ever had any visions for us that were different from what we turned out to be we never heard about them.
I’ve come to realize that the food and the company add spice to the memories. But it’s my mother who makes them.
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