During the winter solstice period, Hanukkah, the festival of lights
commemorating the victory of the Maccabees over Antiochus of Syria
about 2200 years ago, is celebrated. It also commemorates the miracle
when the oil in the synagogue lasted not one, but eight days. Foods
fried in oil are served, including latkes and other pancakes as
well as deep-fried pastries dipped in honey.
For many Jews the anticipation of Hanukkah opens a storehouse of memories of real potato latkes past, of grandmothers who spent hours lovingly grating and frying potatoes for their families. But that doesn't mean that everyone makes traditional potato pancakes today.
Although some people use shortcuts with dehydrated or frozen latkes, freshly made potato pancakes have become chic. Today, designer latkes are crisscrossing the country. These high-fashion potato fritters are laced with scallions, zucchini, carrots, and apples and sometimes topped with goat cheese. It is not the potatoes that are essential to what latkes, a Yiddish word that comes from the Russian latka, symbolize at Hanukkah. "After all it is the oil, not the potatoes which make the latkes," said Dov Noy, professor of Jewish folklore at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The oil in which the pancakes are prepared symbolizes the cleansing and rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after it was defiled by the Syrians some twenty-one centuries ago. The Maccabees found only enough sacred oil to light the menorah for one day. But somehow one day's supply lasted eight.
Lighting the candles
Around the table