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Celebrating Passover: tradition, food and community

When I was a young woman I was invited to my first Passover. So many things about this holiday struck me – the family spirit of the celebration, the rituals, the camaraderie and, of course, the delicious foods. One thing that has stayed with me since that first experience was that everyone there (adults and children) seemed to want to belong to this “community,” – a community of heritage more than religion – but they didn’t all know the prayers or songs, though they longed to.

Book
Recipes and traditions, but some things made me laugh.

As the years passed, and I started my own family, I knew I wanted my children to have that sense of belonging. Having not grown up Jewish, I jumped into the traditions whole-heartedly. My children went to Sunday school every week, each had a Bar or Bat (for girls) Mitzvah (such a special coming of age milestone) and we began hosting our own Passover seder.

 

My family's Haggadah; Katie and her boyfriend, Cory, making the matzah; a table set for 18!
My family’s Haggadah; Katie and her boyfriend, Cory, making the matzah balls for the soup; a table set for 18!

When I attempted my first Passover I made chicken, which was a mistake. The Passover meal begins with a ceremony in which you read from a book called the Haggadah, which tells the story of Passover. The seder plate holds at least six ritual items (see image below for details), each of which represent different parts of the story told during the seder. In my family, we also add a slice of orange as a symbol of woman empowerment.

Seder Plate

So why is making chicken a mistake? Because it is about 40 minutes before you actually eat the meal and by then the chicken was so DRY! In comes brisket to save the day! The recipe I use starts cooking the day before and finishes the day of … and the more it cooks the better it is. You can’t beat that! (see recipe below)

Over the years I have mastered this holiday. I even put together my own family Haggadah that covers all the important facts. We have built “our little community” of three families that we always share this celebration with, and everyone looks forward to and loves this holiday. This past Friday, I had 18 people for a sit down dinner and it was awesome! Everyone certainly feels the sense of belonging, which is what I envisioned so many years ago…

Two-Day Brisket

Two-Day Brisket

Ingredients

  • Brisket (a little less than 1 lb. per person, I did 15 lbs. for 18 people)
  • Season All
  • Onion (1 per 3 lbs. of meat)

Instructions

  1. Sprinkle the meat with Season All
  2. Brown the meat
  3. Slice onion into rings and layer on the bottom of a large roasting pan
  4. Remove meat from browning pan and place in large roasting pan
  5. Sprinkle tons of Season All on top
  6. Cover with water above meat line (and add more Season All to the water)
  7. Cover and cook in oven for 5-6 hours at 350 degrees
  8. Place in the refrigerator over night
  9. Next day, scrape fat out of pan and cut meat across the grain into ¼ inch slices and lay back in pan with onions and juices
  10. Put back in over and cook for 2+ hours at 300 degrees
  11. Serve!
http://www.plankblog.com/cooking/celebrating-passover-tradition-food-and-community/

6 Comments

  1. Love the orange slice for female empowerment! That is awesome. In 37 years I’ve never seen or heard of that but we’ll be doing that from now on thanks to you :). Going to share with all my female relatives and friends!

  2. Hi Mary Beth, I have been a big fan or yours since 1986 & i am always so happy when i get a chance to enjoy your great work on Days! I loved seeing your Extraordinary dining room it’s simply Elegant & the Gorgeous table you set for the Seder. It brought back so many wonderful memories that when i was younger i thought i hated lol! My mother would do the same thing & have a Beautiful Seder with the dining room table set with her finest linen table cloth & napkins, China, & Crystal & lovely candels & flowers & we had the whole family over like the 18 people you had at your Seder.. I’m close to your age & the sad thing in life now my parents are gone & i miss them everyday & i think of these happy & wonderful holidays that i so wished i appreciated more when i was young if i had the chance to now oh how i would enjoy the celebration! Thanks for sharing your holiday with your fans & it is so lovely your children enjoy this now at a younger age & will continue these wonderful customs you taught them through out their lives. I hope to see you more on Days i’m looking forward to Stephen coming back you both mean the world too me & are not just a super couple but the BEST couple that Daytime history was ever lucky enough to have.. I love your blog.. Take Care.. Karen M.

  3. Loved seeing your family table, it was beautiful. My seders are very small for Pesach, cuz we have a very small family. My husband and son, plus my dad, who leads most years. Even so, I did all the traditional courses, including a 4lb brisket, and it was enormous. I cannot imagine 15lbs! I make mine in a Reynolds cooking bag, but I’m really eager to try yours, which I’ll do sometime this spring! I have to know, did you do this in multiple pans? Briskets get longer not taller, so I’m really dying to know how you did this large brisket! I love that you are all in with the Jewish traditions. We’re Cashews over here (Catholic & Jewish 🙂 ), so I love putting together my son’s Easter basket right along with hiding that Afikomen! As a cook and someone who appreciates family traditions, I stumbled upon something you might be interested in. I heard an NPR story on a woman who wrote a book of lost family recipes. More Sephardic than Ashkenazi, but she basically said it’s very sad that this generation today has basically lost the traditional recipes or all ethnicities of the old world that our grandparents and great grandparents came here with, because they were either a) not handed down, or b) we refuse to make them. My grandmothers both died before I could learn their recipes for my favorite foods (a spinach & matzah kugel to die for — gone), and I fully embody B, as I refuse to even attempt to make gufilte fish, which I freaking love (I buy mine at the deli). I’ll try to find the author of the book, but I think your children are extremely lucky that you have all these beautiful recipes that they will have for their families. They’re so important to the fabric of our family traditions.

    • Mary Beth

      Dear Karen,
      Thank you for sharing your memories, makes me feel like I’m on the right track. Like I said in my post everyone does look forward to this gathering and all the ritual and tradition that comes with it. When my kids were little and we were carving a pumpkin as big as them, I thought it’s so odd that they would probably not remember it… but what did happen is it set the foundation for their lives. Happy times and holidays and taking the time to go the extra mile to making things special.. I hope I can keep it up as the years go on. “Off to grannies”… I hope they will be excited for that!!!

  4. Mary Beth,
    Thank you for sharing your family celebration and for explaining this tradition. As a non Jewish person I am aware of Passover but did not understand the steps outlined in the family meal. I also particularly liked your labeling of a community of heritage and sense of belonging. That was a beautiful description and one we can all relate to regardless of our own experiences. I do the same with my family in the Christian experiences of Easter where we all gather at Mass. It is a time of deep connection and contentment and I see that is exactly what you are describing as well. Thank you for enlightening me. I am really so pleased that you shared this.

  5. Just wanted to say I really enjoyed reading this weeks blog. I am sorry to say that I really do not know much about the Jewish traditions and want to thank you for sharing yours & your family’s with us fans! So thanks and looking forward to all of your new blog post that you share in the future!

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