Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
My grandma makes the best wine latkes.
I know what you’re thinking – what? Wine latkes?!
Just wait… they don’t even have anything to do with Chanukah.
The Beame family gets to enjoy my grandma’s wine latkes on two annual occasions: Passover and my sister’s birthday. My sister, cousins, and I go nuts over them. But until recently, none of us have ever wanted to spoil the magic by learning how to make the special latke. We were afraid that once we knew how to make them, we would never want to eat them again (fun fact: there’s a lot of sugar in them).
But then, I changed my mind about the whole better-not-to-know philosophy when it came to wine latkes.
We have a tradition in the ISJL office. Each month, the people who have birthdays in that month have a “party” in the office. Usually, a potluck with a creative theme. During the October birthday celebration, everyone was conversing over what theme they should make theirs. Well, luckily, I have a birthday buddy in the office, and we started making jokes about what our month’s theme will be. Please note this was in October, and my birthday is in May, but that’s not the point. My birthday buddy, Ava, suggested we make our party theme “Jewish Foods.”
Ava said she would make the matzo ball soup, and I replied with “I’ll make the wine latkes.”
As I said that, there was a halt in the conversation.
“What?” said a few people as eyes darted towards me.
I replied, “You know, wine latkes!”
Tthere was not a soul in the room that had heard these two terms together.
I was bombarded with questions, but my only reply was I wish I could tell you, but they are a family secret. This was slightly true, but it was also that I was somewhat embarrassed to say that I had no idea how to answer any of the questions. After the party, I started to look online to see if I could find any recipes or blogs that talked about the wine latkes, and to my surprise, I did not find anything.
After my failed research, I immediately texted my cousins and sister about this whole ordeal. Their responses were just as shocked as mine when they learned that no one in the world knew the special one-of-a-kind recipe that we were so fortunate to have in our lives. We decided that one of us was going to have to learn this recipe, which was clearly unique to our family.
I nominated my sister, as she lives the closest to the grandparents. Her response was not as eager as she is not a very good cook.
I realized that it was going to have to come down to me to learn the recipe.
A few days later, I was on the road for 6 hours, heading to one of my ISJL education partner communities, when I decided to call my grandma. I learned that the tradition to have matzo meal latkes on Passover every year passed on from Mama, my grandma’s mother, and as time went on, my grandfather and grandmother added the secret ingredients to make it wine latkes. She started to explain how to make them, but I told her she can’t just tell me, she has to show me. I scheduled a time to make them with her and my sister the week before Thanksgiving. I did not get to learn more as the call dropped. I decided it was for the best and that I will learn about this tradition in person.
The day had finally come to make the wine latkes.
At first, my grandmother started to hand me a pen and paper to tell me the recipe, but I stepped back and quickly said this shall never be written down. This is a Beame secret recipe. Only the family will ever know how to make them. Honestly, though, I do not see what I could have written down as there is no formal recipe with measurements, just a bunch of ingredients thrown into a bowl with some Yiddish estimates for quantity of each ingredient.
As I was learning, of course, I was asking questions as it is in my nature to question everything. One of the questions I asked was how did she learn how to make the latkes since THERE IS NO RECIPE! The answer to this included some more Yiddish words and a story. And at that moment, I understood why she kept telling me measurements for the latkes with Yiddish… it’s how her mother taught her. After cleaning up the kitchen and talking with my grandmother some more we concluded the evening with dinner.
On Thanksgiving, we shared the latkes we made with the family, and they went in a flash. Although I got some feedback that they were not as sweet as usual, they were pretty close.
And I’ll keep practicing. Because now it’s my job to make sure w that this tradition and secret recipe will stay alive for generations… a sweet family secret.