By Hannah Reich Berman
When Pesach ends, it quickly becomes a faint memory—which is odd, considering that it is among the longest holidays. Long after Purim is over, the taste of hamantaschen lingers in our minds. And when Chanukah ends, the aroma of grated potatoes, fried in oil, permeates the house for days. But the holiday we just celebrated is in a class by itself. When it ends, there isn’t a living soul who will miss matzah for a long while. If I don’t see another board of it until next spring, I will be happy.
Nevertheless, Pesach is nothing like it once was. Preparing for the holiday remains a chore, but once it arrives it’s easier than ever before. Over the eight days, we miss absolutely nothing except maybe a slice of regular pizza or a real, honest-to-goodness bagel, which is not to be confused with those Passover rolls that balabustas are so proud to make and serve. But eggplant parmesan, which was an unthinkable dish when I was a kid, is doable since we can get marinara sauce and cheese for Passover—two items that, at one time, were unavailable. Today we can eat not only cheeses, but also yogurt and even ice cream.
My earliest memories are from the 1950s, and looking back on that time I wonder how mothers managed to make delicious meals using the same few basic ingredients day after day. Each time we sat down to a dinner meal, we stared at a main dish of meat or chicken with a side dish of potatoes, in some form. And, for the most part, that was about it! Appetizers were chopped liver or gefilte fish. The former was what it was—either you liked it or you didn’t. But gefilte fish fell into a different category. It was akin to a competition because everyone claimed that his or her mother made it best!
Repetition was the key word, since we ate the same things day after day. For breakfast, there was no cereal, unless you considered Passover ladyfingers soaked in milk to be a cereal. I, for one, did not! Babies ate it (maybe they still do) because they had no choice, but no self-respecting kid would eat that stuff.
Most times, breakfast in our house was a chremsel. I don’t know what anyone else called it, but in our family a chremsel was a large, fluffy pancake made from (what else) matzah meal and eggs that were whipped into a frothy batter and then dropped onto a hot greased frying pan. And when they were ready to be eaten, we would spread jelly or sugar on top. Today’s kids have Passover cereals. It sounds good. It even looks good. But I tasted the stuff once and the only resemblance it bears to the real thing is that the cereal is in the shape of little O’s. Trust me, my mother’s chremsel was a lot better!
At lunchtime, we ate matzah brei and, in spite of all Pesach foods available today, that dish remains a favorite. Nevertheless, there are other choices. Not only is canned fish available, but there is mayo, even light mayo, to mash it with. So anyone who can resist the high-calorie matzah brei can go the route of tuna salad for a light lunch. When I was growing up, if we went anywhere during chol ha’moed, we took along the same lunch every time: a board of matzah, a hard-boiled egg, and a piece of fruit.
For those too young to remember, the biggest disappointment on Pesach was reserved for people who loved their coffee. For years we used a brown granulated powder that came in a can. It looked and smelled like coffee. But the resemblance ended there, because when it was mixed with boiling water, it turned into a liquid with a taste that defied description.
For many years, the limited selection of culinary items, as outlined above, was all that we had until, gradually, things changed. Every Pesach, something else became available. So things are a lot easier in the food department, but that means that when Pesach ends, there’s no big excitement about biting into anything that was missed, except for the aforementioned bagel or pizza slice. They remain the only two things that simply can’t be replicated for Pesach. But that’s a minor inconvenience, given that kids get to eat hot dogs on Pesach and there is ketchup or mustard to go with it. Amazing!
And this might be hard for some to imagine, but for many years there was no such thing as potato chips during Passover. Our only snacks were jelly candy slices, Barton’s chocolates, and nuts. My father, who did a lot of the shopping (because my mother was more or less chained to the kitchen), always stocked up on bags of walnuts, Brazil nuts, filberts, and almonds. These were not shelled, and that meant that the most precious commodity in our place was the nutcracker. One year, when it went missing, there was bedlam. Mine was not a family that spent recklessly, but I clearly recall that the following Pesach we had several shiny new nutcrackers on hand.
Food was not the only inconvenience. Health and beauty aids were also an issue. Today most women just buy a new lipstick to use on Passover, but when I was a kid that was unacceptable. I still remember the thrill when my mother presented me with kosher l’Pesach lipstick. She held out three shiny gold-toned tubes of them—a red, a pink, and an orange lipstick—and I was delighted. Unfortunately, my delight lasted only until I tried to apply that stuff. The lipsticks were so hard they must have been blended in a cement mixer. Putting it on was bad enough, but that was nothing compared to removing it at the end of the day; that was next to impossible. It’s a wonder my lips didn’t shrivel up and fall off.
Toothpaste was no picnic, either. Nowadays, we get to peruse a list to learn which ones are okay to use and which are not. But that was not always the case. We used a toothpaste that was created exclusively for Passover and was probably produced by the same company that came up with that lipstick formula. I have no idea if the white glop that I squeezed out of that tube contained a single ingredient that actually prevented tooth decay, but I do know that it didn’t do much to freshen anyone’s breath. And it didn’t taste like any toothpaste I had ever before used. Happily, the taste of it lingers only in my memory and not on my tongue.
The bottom line is that these years, when Pesach ends, nobody has anything to get too excited about. Over the eight days, we can get all types of new and improved food, and we don’t have to deal with horrible-tasting toothpaste or use lipstick that needs to be applied with a putty knife. While it’s great that we have it so much easier on Pesach than we did years ago, I confess to missing the thrill of the relief when the holiday ends. That’s the way it is. v
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-902-3733.