Passover is absolutely my favorite Jewish holiday. The anticipation of and excitement about Passover begins long before the holiday, nourished by the tremendous amount of work and preparation involved. It’s like adding fuel to the fire! When I begin thinking about what to serve at the Passover Seder, I think tradition. And I do not change the traditions that have been in our family for generations, traditions from my parents’ families “back home” (in pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe). We carry these traditions into our homes today. These are the traditions that our children and our grandchildren expect and look forward to, both the foods as well as the ritual of the Seder itself. These traditional foods are what our customers at Hungarian Kosher Foods expect, and the foods they enjoy with their families at this very traditional holiday.
The traditional historical story of Passover is joined, in my mind, with my family’s story of Passsover 1944. When the Pharaoh finally and ultimately begged the Children of Israel to leave his land, they left in haste without time for dough to rise, so they took along unleavened dough, hence the traditional matzo.
The Kirschenbaum family in Hluboka, Czechoslovakia (my father’s family), had the tradition of making Passover matzo for all the Jews in their town, year after year. My father had described the attention to detail of the Jewish law and the effort dedicated to making perfect matzo each year. His memories filled me with a sense of family and commitment to community. Then, in March 1944, the Nazis marched into Budapest, where my father was living and working. He was 18 years old, and scared, so he carefully made his way back home to Hluboka, only to find that the Nazis had taken his father. His father’s family still made the matzo for the town that last year, and on the day after Passover, the family along with all the Jews of that town, were forced to leave their homes and taken to the ghetto, and then to Auschwitz.
It is now 70 years after liberation, and we are celebrating both the exodus from Egypt, as well as the survival from the Holocaust.
As I walk through Hungarian Kosher Foods at this time of year, and I meet all our customers who are busily preparing for Passover, reflections on the history of the store, the traditions of the store and my family—all become united.
One of the ritual traditions on Passover is eating “bitter herbs,” and our family uses fresh ground horseradish at the Seder. Additionally, we enjoy fresh ground horseradish mixed with beets, as a side dish for our gefilte fish, as well as our poultry and meat. We prepare the “Beets with Horseradish”, Chrain, that was a tradition in my father’s family, just as my father’s mother did in Hluboka. And so, from Food, Family and Tradition (page 195), I offer you our recipe:
Beets with Horseradish, Chrain
Makes 5 to 6 cups
1 teaspoon salt
3 pounds fresh beets, peeled
½ of a fresh horseradish root, peeled, finely grated
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup vinegar
Fill an 8-quart pot with water halfway. Add salt and bring to a boil over high heat. If beets are not the same size, cut the large beets in half. Add the beets, and bring to a boil. Decrease heat to low, and simmer, covered, until the beets are soft and tender but not mushy, about 1 hour. Do not overcook. Test for doneness by piercing the a fork; the beets should be soft but firm. Drain well. Reserve beets.
Meanwhile, peel the horseradish using a vegetable peeler. The horseradish root is very hard. You can either grate it by hand on the second finest side of a four-sided grater, which is very difficult. Or, you can also use the food processor. Using a sharp knife, cut the horseradish into 1-inch chunks, then process with the metal blade until finely grated. Measure out ½ cup and reserve. Store remainder covered, refrigerated.
Grate the beets on the second finest side of a four-sided grater for the traditional fine-textured Chrain. Or grate half the beets on the second finest side and half on the medium side for a relish with varied texture. Transfer the grated beets and ½ cup grated horseradish to a medium bowl.
In a small separate bowl, mix together the sugar and vingegar. Add the mixture to the horseradish-beet mixture in the medium bowl. Stir to mix. Let sit for at least one hour before adjusting seasoning. I usually let it sit overnight in the refrigerator so the beets absorb the flavors. Taste and adjust seasoning by adding more salt, sugar, vinegar or horseradish as desired. Refrigerate covered for two weeks.