EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - How does a family have a Passover Seder, usually a big event with a sumptuous table, games for kids, shared readings, and lots of sweet wine, when practicing social distancing? Most of us are at home now, in small family groups, by ourselves, or alone during this festival. Even Elijah may be hesitant to come to the door, no matter how many goblets of syrupy Manischewitz are raised to him.
2020 is certainly not the year to linger over the Haggadah recitation of the various plagues visited on the Egyptians more than 2,500 years ago, either.
It may be a time, though, to cook a bit more in the spirit of American Jewish tradition, making something delicious out of what is available.
That's what my Grandmother-in-law Florence Pressman of the Bronx called "freshening." Freshening is taking something store-bought and making it seem fresh by adding a bit of love, and, maybe some carrots, or onions, or whatever is in your kitchen. Freshening shows both your family, and your food, that you care about it.
This Passover, when everything you need may not be available in the store or when you might not be able to keep strictly Kosher, do your best to make the special meal one that echoes the tale of the journey that the Haggadah tells in which the Jews ate unleavened bread, not because they wanted to, but because that was what they had.
Today, I am freshening boxed chicken broth that I was able to get at Acme last week on my weekly shopping excursion. It tastes okay, but pretty bland. No matter how many people are at the table, in our house there will be three, matzoh ball soup is a must. Here's the easy recipe:
"Freshened Chicken Broth"
Set your crock-pot on low for 6 hours.
Add two 32-ounce boxes of store-bought chicken broth, whatever kind you like.
Add 2 peeled, chopped carrots.
Add one whole large onion cut in four pieces. Do not remove the skin. In true, old-school fashion, the skin will color the broth.
Add two celery stalks with leaves, cut up.
Add one head of garlic with about a third inch of the top cut off. Do not remove the skins. Do not press or chop.
Let it cook for six hours. It will make your house smell great, and you will help your little group at home feel like a holiday is coming.
Pass the broth through a colander to remove the large pieces.
Pass the broth again through a colander lined with cheesecloth to remove small pieces.
Save your broth for the holiday and your delicious matzoh balls (made from the box, of course!)
This past year, I had the pleasure of eating matzoh ball soup at Russ and Daughters in New York City. It was perfect. A simple food made with lots of flavor. I am sure that the tasty golden broth was rich with chicken fat, but this freshened broth has a similar delicious taste. Use your microplane (There it is in the back of the back of the cutlery drawer!) Top your individual bowls of soup with incredibly thin slices of celery and some fresh celery leaves.
Florence Pressman would be proud.