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The most celebrated of all the Jewish holidays is Passover. Without question it is not only the most interesting of all Jewish holidays but tests our creativity and ingenuity. Many of the ingredients we take for granted during the year are forbidden for use at Passover because traditional Jewish families don't cook or eat foods that contain any leavening. Therefore, families who follow the Conservative or Orthodox Jewish laws for Passover completely change their diets for eight days.
Raised in an Orthodox kosher home, today I am affiliated with a Reform temple. I still follow the Passover dietary laws and enjoy having my children and grandchildren help me prepare for our family seder. All of our children have prepared or attended a seder, though they don't remove leavened products from their cooking or their homes. Our children who live in other cities have had us visit them at Passover, and the whole family, including the grandchildren, helps with the seder preparation.
There is no better way to introduce your children and grandchildren to Passover than involving them from the very beginning. In the past my grandchildren have chosen the haggadah we use. We look through the pages together and decide which portions we want to read and which we will leave out. Depending on their ages, they may not have the patience to sit for long periods of time. When they were five and six years of age, we used the haggadahs they brought home from religious school. The grandchildren have created matzah covers which we use to hold the three matzahs and napkin rings to hold the napkins.
Whenever the opportunity presents itself, they help me prepare the items for the seder plate which belonged to my grandmother. Several weeks before Passover, we purchase a large horseradish root, cut off the top, and place it in a glass of water to root. We cut small pieces for the individual seder plates, which I wrap in foil and place in the refrigerator. I make my own horseradish with the remaining root. The grandchild are always thrilled when the horseradish root we had placed in a glass of water several weeks before Passover has green leaves sprouted from it. This is placed on the seder plate along with the other symbolic foods they help me prepare.
My grandchildren enjoy helping me roast the lamb shank and egg for the seder plate. They place the egg and the lamb bone on the foil-lined pan for roasting, and love seeing how they have changed color and shape when taken out of the oven.
Even the littlest hands can push the buttons on a food processor. In this way, my grandchildren can help me make the haroset (mixture of apples, nuts, and honey). I fold my apron in half and tie it around a grandchild's waist, pull the step stool up to the counter, and together we count the seconds out loud. We make two kinds of haroset.
We also create individual seder plates for each participant in the seder. We put parsley, pieces of horseradish, matzah, and a small scoop of haroset on small, individual plates for each guest. Traditionally, we use colorful paper or plastic plates for this ceremonial portion of the seder. Since the grandchildren can fill the paper seder plates by themselves, it's a perfect opportunity to have them feel important.
Since I celebrate Passover the entire week, my grandchildren and I prepare their favorite Passover casserole, Macaroni and Cheese Passover Style, and their favorite snack, Rocky Road Candy. We freeze the casserole, and serve the candy at the seder, with the dessert.
The most important obligation we have is to pass the story of the Jews' flight from slavery into freedom onto the next generation. Because our grandchildren range in age from two to seventeen years, we choose to use a child's haggadah at our seders. The Family Haggadahs I and II, published by Kar Ben, are especially geared to including children. Each has a tape containing the Passover songs, and we have enjoyed using the tapes in the past. But you might find other haggadahs that you prefer.
I like to say that "It isn't really Passover if someone hasn't spilled wine on the tablecloth." If that happens at your seder, don't fret. It's easier to expect it to happen. It means that everyone is having a good time.
To help you enjoy this Jewish celebration of freedom with your families, I have included recipes for Haroset, Macaroni and Cheese, and Rocky Road candy. They are from my cookbook Passover Seders Made Simple (Wiley Publishers, 2001, $16.95).
1 cup chopped nuts (pecans, almonds, walnuts or a mixture)
5 small apples, peeled and cored
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons sweet wine, or more to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1. Place the nuts in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse 2 to 3 times to chop. Remove to a small bowl and set aside.
2. Cut the apples into 1-inch pieces. Add to the food processor with the lemon zest, wine, sugar, cinnamon, and ginger. Pulse 2 or 3 times until everything is chopped into medium pieces. Scrape the bowl as needed, making sure nothing gets lodged on the blade. Remove to a 1-quart bowl.
3. Fold in the nuts, adjust the seasoning, then cover and refrigerate.
With a sharp knife, chop the nuts and dice the apples into a 1-quart bowl. Add the lemon zest, wine, sugar, cinnamon, and ginger and combine. Adjust the seasons, then cover and refrigerate.
3 large eggs
3- 1/2 cups matzo farfel, or
6 whole matzahs, broken into small pieces
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper cut into 16 pieces
1/2 lb cheddar cheese cut into 2-inch pieces
1 pint sour cream
4 ounces (1 stick) butter cut into 16 pieces
1. Preheat oven 350°F. In a medium bowl lightly beat 2 of the eggs and mix in the farfel or broken matzahs. In a 4-cup measure or blender, beat remaining eggs with the milk, salt and pepper.
2. Grease or spray a 2 -quart rectangular casserole. Place half of the farfel mixture and half of the cheese in the casserole. Add half of the sour cream, distributing it in dollops evenly on the surface, then half of the butter pieces. Make a second layer in the same fashion. Pour the milk mixture on top.
3. Cover the casserole and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 to 15 minutes longer to brown the top. Cut into squares and serve.
1 cup finely chopped toasted pecans, walnuts, almonds, or hazelnuts
2 cups miniature marshmallows
1 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup dried cherries or apricots
Two 12-ounce packages semisweet chocolate chips
1. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil. In a large bowl, mix the nuts, marshmallows, raisins, and dried cherries or apricots together.
2. Place the chocolate chips in a 4-cup microwave-safe container. Microwave on high for 2 minutes; stir. Microwave 2 minutes more, remove and stir the chocolate chips until completely melted. Or melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler over very low heat, stirring constantly.
3. Spread half of the melted chocolate evenly on top of the foil in the pan. Distribute the marshmallow mixture over the melted chocolate. Spread the remaining melted chocolate on top. Place in the refrigerator to harden. Remove and break into bite-size pieces.