Saturday, November 30, 2013

Rebecca's Latkes and Applesauce

Happy Hanukkah!

I survived Black Friday! Thanks to everyone for their well wishes, it actually wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. That said, I'm pretty sure I've confirmed that running a cash register is not my calling in life, and I'm (semi) patiently waiting for something better to come up.

Anyway, as I'm sure all of you know thanks to the increased publicity this year, Thanksgiving was also the first night of Hanukkah! There was absolutely no way I was letting this holiday pass me by, no matter how busy I was at work, so I made sure to set aside some time this week to do a feature about one of my favorite holidays. Enjoy!

In case anyone hasn't ventured out into the world of retail recently (... or since the beginning of September, as it gets earlier every year), the holiday season has officially arrived, and people everywhere are getting ready to spend time with family, buy awesome presents and eat a lot of great food. This year, we're all a lot more focused on the food thanks to the blog, and there's been a lot of discussion about what to feature with who, and when!

There's also been a lot of grocery list writing and running back and forth to the store.

I'm going to make an effort to feature most of the historical dolls I've got in my collection before January. With the exception of Marie-Grace, Cécile and Kaya, whose book series don't follow the traditional six book format of meet, school, holiday, spring/birthday, summer and winter again, the other characters we've featured here have specific holiday treats they enjoy, and the current plan is to recreate as many of those as possible over the next month. Since we did find things for Marie-Grace and Cécile even if their books don't say much of anything about Christmas or other winter traditions that aren't Mardi Gras, they're going to be featured, too.

Obviously, the logical place to begin was with Rebecca and Hanukkah! 

Hanukkah is featured prominently in Candlelight for Rebecca, the third book in her series. In it, Rebecca has to face some difficult questions about how to handle not celebrating Christmas in a culture that's telling her she's not a good American if she doesn't. While she thinks Christmas decorations are pretty and enjoys singing the songs, she loves Hanukkah more, and isn't sure how to handle her teacher telling her to make a Christmas centerpiece for a class assignment. I can't tell you how many of my friends growing up would have loved a book like this. While our teachers were historically pretty good about making sure any Christmas activities like making presents for our families featured a Christmas or Hanukkah option, it can still be difficult being one of the only people in a group who isn't going along with what everyone else is doing. I remember one of my friends thought Santa Claus hated her because he never came to her house! The fact that there's a character out there for little girls to relate to who goes through the same thing is really awesome, and I'm glad American Girl decided to add this story to her series.

While Hanukkah isn't the most important holiday in the Jewish calendar, it is definitely the holiday most non Jews are familiar with thanks to the retail industry trying to convince everyone that it's basically the Jewish version of Christmas, and thus a lot of people do think it's the most important holiday of the year. For those unfamiliar with its origins, the holiday celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire of the 2nd century BCE. Basically, the temple was seized by the army of a Syrian-Greek ruler, practicing Judaism was made an offense punishable by death, and they tried to bully the Jews into practicing their faith instead. After the Jews were able to overthrow them, they had to clean up and rededicate the temple, but could only find enough oil to light the menorah for one day. The story goes that the oil actually lasted for eight nights. The holiday is supposed to celebrate the miracle and the victory over their oppressors. Families light

This year, the first day of Hanukkah took place on Thanksgiving Day, an event that won't happen again in several thousand years! Hanukkah and other Jewish holidays move around the calendar because the Jewish calendar operates on a lunar-solar cycle, not a solar like the Christian calendar or lunar like the Muslim calendar. The math is a little too crazy for me, but basically, between that and the fact that the Jewish calendar doesn't account for the extra 0.25 days in a year (which is why we have leap years), this combination is definitely not going to happen again in our lifetimes, and maybe not ever!

Despite the fact that it's not the most important holiday of the year, it's always been one I've enjoyed celebrating as part of school festivities and being invited over my friend's houses to enjoy a night of playing games and eating latkes. It seems like forever since I've had opportunity to actually eat a latke though, so I was very excited to get started.

Latkes are a traditional dish served at Hanukkah because they're cooked in oil, which reminds families of the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days. No one is really certain how it came about that these potato pancakes were the staple of the holiday, especially because scholarship suggests that originally it was tradition to eat dairy products during Hanukkah, but they're delicious regardless of the historical context. Rebecca and her friend Rose both talk about how they're excited to eat them

I decided to make homemade applesauce as an accompaniment both because it's traditional, but also because it was the title of my favorite Hanukkah book when I was a kid: Latkes and Applesauce: A Hanukkah Story.


The applesauce is my mom's invention, and is very simple to make. Core the apples, throw them in a pot with some cinnamon and a tiny bit of water, and let them steam on the stove for a while.

They'll basically cook themselves, and turn mushy. You can peel them before if you want, but we got a handy invention that helps get rid of them, so we left them on.

My mom found a food mill that reminded her of the one her grandma used, and while she thought it didn't really do a good job with the mashed potatoes she made earlier this week, it managed the apples pretty handily.

And that's that! To make the latkes, I used a Martha Stewart recipe. It was a little more involved than some of the recipes I remember making with my friends and their parents, but it made really tasty latkes. You start by peeling the potatoes and then shredding them into an ice bath.

Once you're done, you strain the potatoes, put them in a towel and gently squeeze some of the liquid out. You're supposed to keep the ice bath on hand and let the starch settle at the bottom of the bowl. The recipe just said that the water should eventually look less cloudy after about ten minutes, but it still looked pretty cloudy.

We finally gave up on waiting for it - dinner was already running late and we all sort of just wanted to eat at this point - and I started to try dumping out only the very top level of clear water. That went pretty poorly, but when we gave up and just started dumping most of it out, we finally saw what the recipe was talking about!

That milky white stuff on the bottom is the starch!

Add the other ingredients to the bowl and mix them together.


As I've mentioned before, I really don't like frying things. Neither does my mom, actually, so both of us were a little dubious about this whole process for a lot of reasons. This only got worse when I almost burned the first few latkes we made because the oil was too hot, although to be honest? Those were probably my favorites we made all night. They were super crunchy and hot, which is exactly how I like them.

We figured out a better system soon, but it made a mess. My mom made me promise that this would be the last time we fried things on the blog for a while, and it was one I was happy to agree to!

One thing I appreciated about the recipe was the tip to put some of the latkes in the oven while you cooked the rest to keep them warm. Reheating latkes has often been a source of frustration and disappointment, because microwaving them just doesn't do the job well. No one wants a soggy, lukewarm latke!

And there we go! It made a lot of latkes, but they were all happily devoured. I'm pretty sure my brother ate most of them, although I ended up eating more of them than I originally told myself I would. Oops.

Despite all the fuss and mess that comes along with frying things, I'm really glad we got to do this. Latkes are delicious, and this applesauce is a really great thing to know how to make for so many different reasons - it goes great in oatmeal and cakes, and is tasty just by itself. Don't hesitate to give either of these recipes a try, and have a Happy Hanukkah for those who celebrate it!

Good luck and enjoy!


  1. Okay, now I want to make applesauce. I might have to do that "throw em in a pot, cook til dead" method.

    1. I would definitely recommend it! We didn't use any sugar and they were kind of crummy apples, but it still tasted really sweet. c: