The Mystery of the Passover Potato Gnocchi

A Passover seder plate, photo by Sarah Biggart via Flickr Creative Commons

A Passover seder plate, photo by Sarah Biggart via Flickr Creative Commons

From ReadTheSpirit host Bobbie Lewis:

Passover will soon be upon us and I’ve invited my Australian friend, Andrea Cooper, to share a column for the holiday. We met nearly 20 years ago in a “bulletin board” (remember those?) for public relations professionals. When we discovered that we were both Jewish we started emailing privately and have been in contact ever since. Andrea has done a couple of interesting pieces for Feed the Spirit, including one about the Pavlova wars between Australia and New Zealand and one about an unusual family recipe.

The most-observed Jewish holiday

As Andrea points out, almost all Jews around the world observe Passover in some way.

“At a basic level it may mean attending a Passover seder meal or abstaining from bread or other wheat/grain based products over the full festival eight days,” she wrote. “Jewish cooks take up the creative challenge of the Passover food laws and find inventive ways” to make palatable meals.

“In Australia, I participate in two strictly orthodox kosher Facebook pages,” she wrote. “With Passover only a few weeks away, the discussions are currently full of diverse ‘kosher for Passover’ food questions.

Traditional gnocchi can be kosher for Passover if made without flour; (photo by Ess Eppis via Flickr Creative Commons).

Traditional gnocchi can be kosher for Passover if made without flour; (photo by Ess Eppis via Flickr Creative Commons).

Making pasta without grains

“One interesting thread has been about pasta and how one might make this without wheat or other grain flour. A question was asked about pasta made with potatoes. I quickly responded that I make Passover potato gnocchi. A couple of requests quickly surfaced for my recipe, which I proudly provided.”

Then Andrea started to wonder if she should have published the recipe online.

“You see the recipe is not mine. It sits hand-written in my Passover notebook titled ‘Bobbies Pesach Gnocchi.’ My online, also kosher, friend from across the world gave me the recipe many years ago. I have no idea where she got the original from but it’s great!

“Though Bobbie and I have never met, for almost 20 years we’ve shared many aspects of each other’s lives.

“What should I do now? Would Bobbie mind? I then thought, oh, she edits the Feed The Spirit food pages. Why don’t I just write up this as a story for her?

“So Bobbie and all readers, here it is!”

A mystery recipe

Pumpkin gnocchi, photo by Harold Walker via Flickr Creative Commons

Pumpkin gnocchi, photo by Harold Walker via Flickr Creative Commons

But here’s the funny part about Andrea’s gnocchi recipe, which she makes every year to rave reviews: I have no recollection of it!

I have a manila folder, similar to Andrea’s notebook, stuffed with Passover recipes and notes. Some are dishes I make just about every year. Other recipes have been in that folder for more than 30 years and I have yet to try them. There are kugels (puddings) and cakes galore, but no gnocchi.

It’s a mystery. Perhaps Andrea and I were discussing recipes and I sent that one to her because it sounded like something she’d like and then neglected to keep it myself. Or perhaps it came from another Bobbie altogether!

This year I’m copying it and putting it at the top of my pile so I will try it for sure.

And by the way, in case you have concerns similar to Andrea’s, there’s no problem sharing a recipe you find elsewhere; recipes cannot be copyrighted. The commentary about a dish, and any detailed instructions that aren’t part of the recipe itself, are covered by copyright laws. This is something I was careful to check before starting this blog.

I do try to credit the person or publication where I got the recipe, if I know it. Unfortunately, in the case of “Bobbie’s” Passover Potato Gnocchi,” I have no idea!

 

 

 

 

Pavlova wars

APavlova dessert, photo by Ruth Raymond via Flickr Creative Commons.

APavlova dessert, photo by Ruth Raymond via Flickr Creative Commons.

Andrea Cooper

Andrea Cooper

This week we salute the Pavlova, a delectable dessert, because the first documented recipe for it was published 79 years ago this month. Our Australian guest blogger, Andrea Cooper, writes about the battle between Australian and New Zealand to claim credit for it.

Australia and New Zealand are neighbor countries and allies. Yet their own rivalry, across the ditch (the Tasman Sea), is legendary and taken seriously by many. Examples of this friendly but deep rivalry abound, especially in sport.  A couple of years ago when New Zealand lost their America’s Cup (yachting) challenge to the US, New Zealand’s loss was played up in the Australian media as a local victory, because key positions in the U.S. team were held by Aussies. There are also the annual rugby matches of the Australian Wallabies vs the New Zealand All Blacks, cricket, netball and other sports. Additionally, many entertainers acclaimed international as Australians, including Russell Crowe and Keith Urban, are in fact New Zealand-born.

A down-under food war

Ballerina Anna Pavlova as the Dying Swan in 1928, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Ballerina Anna Pavlova as the Dying Swan in 1928, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Perhaps the most serious rivalry comes from a different field altogether. It is a food war over who invented the Pavlova dessert.

No one contests that it is named after the ballerina Anna Pavlova, who visited both countries in 1926 and Australia again in 1929. This confection, consisting of a meringue shell topped with whipped cream and fruit, can certainly be viewed as a reflection of a dancer’s fluffy white tutu. The dispute arose in the 1950s with the wide publication, in Australia, of Chef Herbert Sachse’s recipe for “Traditional Pavlova.” Sachse claimed to have invented this dish in 1935 whilst working at The Esplanade Hotel in Perth, naming it after Anna Pavlova, who had stayed at the hotel in 1929. New Zealanders were soon up in arms, claiming the dish as their own and accusing Australia of plagiarism.

The dispute has raged across the decades and continued even after Anna Pavlova’s own biographer stated that the dish was created by a chef at the Wellington hotel where she stayed in 1926. Today many Australians still refuse to acknowledge the Pavlova as a New Zealand creation, even after the 2008 publication of Helen Leach’s well documented book The Pavlova Story: A Slice of New Zealand’s Culinary History. 

Leach is a culinary anthropologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand. Her library of cookbooks includes 667 Pavlova recipes from more than 300 sources. Leach identifies a recipe for “Meringue with Fruit Filling” in a 1926 book, Home Cookery for NZ. In 1927, the name Pavlova first appears for a trifle-like dessert (not a fruit-filled meringue) released by the Davis Gelatine company in their Davis Dainty Dishes (sixth edition). Other recipes for meringues with fruit were printed in various New Zealand publications, including the Women’s Mirror magazine in April 1935. This is the recipe that Herbert Sachse most likely copied and “improved,” then first served as “The Pavlova” on October 3,1935.

The OED steps into the fray

A few years ago, the Oxford English Dictionary awarded the honor to New Zealand, saying the Davis Dainty Dishes publication was the first published Pavlova recipe–even though it was a different confection. Leach said she identified at least 21 Pavlova recipes in New Zealand cookbooks before 1940, the date of the first Australian publication.

Margaret Fulton in 2012, photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Margaret Fulton in 2012, photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Of course this doesn’t satisfy some Aussies.

“They can make all the claims they like, and the Oxford dictionary can go on like great academic know-it-alls, but I think Australians would agree with me that the true Pavlova belongs to Australia,” huffed Margaret Fulton, a 90-year-old Australian food guru, in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald after the OED announcement. Personally, in the end I don’t care who first created the Pavlova. Making a good one from scratch is a challenge, but well worth the effort and calories.

Now if Australia and New Zealand could only agree on who first invented the lamington (cubes of sponge cake coated with chocolate icing and coconut) and the ANZAC biscuit (an oatmeal and coconut cookie) – but those are topics for another time!

This Pavlova recipe comes from www.taste.com.au. I’ve adjusted the measurements and terms for U.S. norms. aIf you want to watch a YouTube demo, you can take your pick of many videos

Eiren Zoyren, a favorite family recipe from Poland (by way of Australia)

Andrea Cooper

Andrea Cooper

Andrea Cooper, the author of today’s column, lives in Melbourne, Australia. We met more than 15 years ago on a listserv for public relations professionals. I can’t remember how long ago it was, but my children were still at home and her son, now in his 20s, was not yet a teenager. We discovered that we had much in common, including traditional Jewish practice, and have been in touch via email and Facebook since. We frequently chat about the similarities and differences in Jewish customs between the U.S. and Australia, not the least of which is their weird way of spelling many of the Yiddish terms that have made their way into English. Andrea currently runs a consulting firm called ComAbility, to help companies and organizations create communications that are accessible to people with disabilities. I’ve kept Andrea’s original British spellings for this week’s column, which reminds us how important it is to get recipes for beloved dishes from our elders. Here’s Andrea …

Most of us remember a special dish our mothers or grandmothers cooked. The flavour lingers in our memories, bringing back family gatherings and meals. When I was growing up, one of the treats Mum might make for Shabbat was an entrée dish called Eiren Zoyren. She often made it for visitors, who would say they’d never had anything like it before.

The author and her grandmother, Pearl Redelman, with whom the recipe originated

The author and her grandmother, Pearl Redelman, with whom the recipe originated.

Eiren Zoyren is served cold. It is essentially eggs poached in a sauce. Over the years, Mum cooked it less often and then not at all. People were cutting back on the number of eggs they ate, fearing that too many might add to their cholesterol levels. The taste has stayed with me all my life. Whenever I would see a new Jewish cookbook, I’d unsuccessfully flip through trying to find the recipe.

Don’t procrastinate—get those recipes!

About a decade ago, when mum was getting near the end with her terminal cancer, it was one of two recipes (the other was her chicken soup) that I requested she show me how to make. We both procrastinated and finally she wasn’t well enough to make it with me. So we talked about how it was made, but not the exact quantities.

After she passed away, I presumed I’d find the recipe online. No luck! Over the years I’ve searched. The nearest is a German recipe that has some similarities, but is clearly different. My mother’s  family comes from Lublin in Poland, so the original source of this recipe is likely to be amongst the Jewish community of that region. (My grandmother  Pearl Redelman’s maiden name was Kelner. I’ve traced her Kelner line back to 1756 in Lublin. In the 1780’s census, a third of Lublin’s population at about 1,400 were Jews.)

Andrea with her mother, Bell Cooper, grandmother and sister Abigail in the 1960s.

Andrea with her mother, Bell Cooper, grandmother and sister Abigail in the 1960s.

My sister and I both were determined not to lose what we began to realise was a unique family specialty. None of my cousins had the recipe written down.

Aunty Dora to the rescue

A few years ago my sister visited my mum’s older sister in Adelaide. In her late 80s, she hadn’t made Eiren Zoyren for many years. Together my aunt and my sister made a batch and wrote down the recipe.

Yesterday, I found my sister’s handwritten copy of this recipe.

Today, I have made it, though with a few adjustments to meet my own taste memories.

In two days’ time, I will proudly serve my Shabbat guests this unique entrée.

Now I am writing this recipe down to share, so it may never again be lost. I present it in memory of my mother, Bell Cooper, and her mother Perl Redelman (nee Kelner), with special thanks to my Aunty Dora Chester and my sister Abigail.