I often feel that there’s a myth that food needs to be homemade to be special. In my family we have a range of cooking abilities and patience for crafting everything from scratch. There are some foods that are sacred to our holiday gatherings which are homemade (cue my mom and aunt’s brisket recipes or my mom’s apple cake) and then there are things we get a little help with (frozen latkes or matzo ball mix from a box). I think those foods are just as important. They can still embody all of our positive memories and associations of togetherness, regardless of the fact that they weren’t created in our own kitchens.
This year, while observing Passover during the COVID-19 pandemic, I made do with what I had available around the house and avoided going to the store to procure anything extra. I brought out the matzo ball mix and some canned veggie broth and made matzo ball soup. Next I moved on to making my favorite Passover dish, the charoset. This dish is meant represent the mortar used by the Jewish people when they were enslaved in Egypt. There are many ways to make this dish, but my family makes a version with apples, walnuts, sweet red wine, and spices. This year I set about making the charoset, and found I had a small amount of sweet red wine, a few apples, and some spices, but no walnuts! So I spend a great deal of time picking out some pistachios from a bag of trail mix I found in the back of the pantry. I made do, and it was delicious!
This year, there was something particularly meaningful in the ritual of making and eating these goods. Although some of my family was able to gather on Zoom, we were not able to have our yearly family Seder at my aunt and uncle’s house in the beautiful farmland of Pennsylvania. Experiencing these foods made me feel close to everyone I couldn’t be near. I also reflected on the generations of Jews who came before me, who strove to observe their holidays under persecution or duress. I felt deeply connected to the past and proud of myself for having been able to create the familiar flavors of my family gatherings - something homemade and something from a box - and it was perfect!
Here are some of our favorite non-homemade Jewish foods:
Here is an example of an apple and walnut charoset recipe: