Hanukkah .. time to make traditional fried Incan pancakes

LatkesSo this afternoon my wife is making that traditional Hanukkah Jewish delicacy .. latkes.

The problem is how can we celebrate Hanukkah with a pancake made with the new world tuber not known in Israel until 2000 years after the Maccabees?  And what did the Maccabees fry their latkes in?  Olive oil was a commodity so  precious that Hanukkah celebrates a miracle of finding enough to burn light for 8 days?

Everything You Know About Latkes Is Wrong

But when the landmark Art of Jewish Cooking explained in 1958 that (latkes) were the
pancakes “which the wives of the soldiers of the ancient hero Judah Maccabee hurriedly cooked for their men behind the lines,” it was off by a couple of millennia. One thing we know for certain about the Hasmoneans, heroes of the Hanukkah tale? They weren’t eating potatoes.





Let’s start with the oil. There weren’t a whole lot of olive trees in the Eastern European lands from which many Jews emigrated to the United States. In the Old World, the common cooking fat was schmaltz—rendered from chickens, geese, or beef. And, in fact, the Mercury specified that latkes were to be “fried in schmaltz.”

But on this side of the Atlantic, Jews soon began to use Crisco—memorably marketed as the miracle for which “the Hebrew Race had been waiting 4,000 years.” When shortening fell from favor, it was replaced by olive oil, allowing Hebrew-school teachers and pulpit rabbis across the country to connect the pancakes to the story of Hanukkah. Because if not for the oil, why are Jews celebrating the holiday by frying potatoes in the first place?

So what was a latke before the arrival of the potato? Still a pancake, but made from grain—most commonly buckwheat or rye—and fried in schmaltz….But buckwheat and rye are northerly crops. How did Jews celebrate the festival before they migrated away from the Mediterranean shores? The latke, it turns out, has its roots in an old Italian Jewish custom, documented as early as the 14th century. That, it seems, is where Jews first fried pancakes to celebrate Hanukkah. Only back then, they were made of cheese.

The 14th century, it seems, is when Jews first fried pancakes to celebrate Hanukkah. Only back then, they were made of cheese.


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