Yes, We Do Write Our Own Essays

The following essay was published March 24, 2010 in the Jewish News.

Passover kitchen leads to lessons, camaraderie

By Susan Knoppow

Tonight my 9-year-old son learned to separate eggs — crack the shell, then pass the yolk back and forth between the halves as the white drips into a bowl below. His brother squeezed lemon juice; their sister measured sugar.

Eggs, lemon, sugar, all whisked together into lemon curd to fill macaroon pie shells. Along with the sponge cake and brownies, we’ll eat the pie for dessert at our seder.

I cooked the filling in a saucepan from my grandmother’s Pesach cupboard. I don’t think she made lemon pie for seder dessert, though I can’t be sure. She and my grandfather sealed their house shut and decamped to a glatt kosher Miami hotel every Pesach as far back as I can remember.

My solution to the kosher-for-Pesach challenge? A spare kitchen in the basement, stocked with my grandmother’s pots and pans and my mother’s first set of china, plus odds and ends accumulated over the years -a microplane grater, mismatched serving bowls, a stack of glass plates, a spoon rest from New Orleans decorated with a picture of a lobster.

Preparing for Passover is a huge task. There’s no way around it. So four years ago, my mother and I gave ourselves a gift -the basement kitchen. Eleven months of the year, it serves as a staging ground for parties, a place to cook a holiday turkey, a storage space for extra yogurt and pretzels and gallons of milk.

But just after Purim, when Pesach starts to seem real again, I empty the fridge, pull out the shelves and scour every surface. I run the dishwasher empty, self-clean the oven, boil water in the microwave and scrub the counters. From that point on, the kitchen is off-limits except for Pesach preparations. My mother no longer has to play hostess for holiday dinners. She cooks part of the meal here, but the night of the seder, she arrives in time to light candles with my father, as a guest.

Two or three weeks before Pesach, I invite my friends to join me in the evenings or to stop over when they have time. Why not share the space?

Sometimes, it even feels like a party — a little wine, some music, laughter and stories. Last year, Lisa made brisket and chicken soup, nine months pregnant, determined to have a meal ready in the freezer despite the impending arrival of her third son. Barbara boiled a dozen eggs; Helen made cookies, took photos and posted updates on Facebook.

This year, Sandra made meringues, glossy as clouds. After the children went to bed, we strained the lemon curd through sieves and set it aside till next week. Come Pesach, we’ll each have a pie.

Susan Knoppow of Huntington Woods is co-owner of Wow Writing Workshop. She helps students write essays for college and scholarship applications.