As the eight-day holiday of Chanukah starts, we present Susan Gartenberg’s remembrance of her grandmother’s potato pancakes (latkes in Yiddish). This dish is traditional for Chanukah because it is fried in oil, recalling the Chanukah miracle when one day’s oil in the rededicated Temple lasted for eight days. Susan Gartenberg grew up in Detroit and is a retired preschool and elementary school educator. Her three grandchildren now enjoy their bubbie’s latkes!
My bubbie made the best potato latkes and coffee cakes!
Like many Jewish grandmothers in those days, she never had a recipe.
One day, when my children were very young, Bubbie came to help me make latkes. She wore her usual cotton house dress with a zipper in front. She put on a cotton print apron and watched me peel potatoes.
“Oy vay, you’re wasting half the potatoes!” she cried as I continued peeling with my fancy new left-handed peeler.
She took over and, one-two-three, those potatoes were peeled! I invited more families to celebrate Chanukah with us, and before I knew it, we had 15 pounds of potatoes
peeled and grated by hand (no food processors in those days)!
We fried the latkes, overwhelming our guests with the aroma.
Nothing was too much for Bubbie, not even 50 guests for Chanukah.
Bubbie’s coffee cakes were known throughout our community. She kneaded the dough filled with cinnamon and raisins and allowed it to rise, covered with a cloth, on the top of her gas stove, then baked the cakes in white enamel pans with red trim.
After baking she would cover the warm cakes with a kitchen towel and place them in an empty cardboard tomato basket. Some of the cakes remained on the stove in her home so she could greet guests with tea and cake and a “shtekel” (cube of) sugar.
My zadie believed women shouldn’t drive, so Bubbie, wearing a flowered front-zippered housedress and a white sweater, and I would walk – and
walk, and walk – to bring her fragrant coffee cakes and latkes to family and friends for the holiday.
I could never replicate the coffee cakes but I can remember that the most important ingredient was the love Bubbie incorporated into every recipe. I can feel it even as I remember her cooking.
Another thing I remember is that I, as the first grandchild, could do no wrong in Bubbie’s eyes.
When my mother would become angry at me for some childish infraction, Bubbie would say, in Yiddish, “She won’t do it again.” I always felt very special and very loved.
The recipe below is adapted from Epicurious.