Since I highlighted my grandmother in my previous post, the one who was an avid yet not very good cook, I should turn some attention to my other grandmother now. She was a top-flight cook. Grandma B could take dust and air and create a cake or a “bulkah” (a thick yeast roll with filling) or sweet cookies that were tender and melted on your tongue but her glory was anything fried.
Grandma B. was foremost an oiler. No, she was not a football player but a person who loved cooking with oil. As a result, her specialty was potato latkes for Hanukkah. Grandma B. would don that grease splattered apron, grate her onions while she cried, grate her potatoes until the potato juice was running down her arms and then, with gusto, she mixed it all together in a large wooden bowl with an egg, or two, some salt and pepper and a “bisel” of matzo meal or flour—with both hands.
She tossed that mixture until it combined into a bowl of spidery goo. Then she said, “Let rest. Dun’t bodder it. Sha!”
So all of us kids would then sit in the wooden chairs around the table while she shouted another instruction, “Dun’t moov. Stay, yah, stay. Shecket! (Quiet).”
She would drop the cast iron skillet on the burner with a loud clang and turn the flame up so high we could hear the gas sing. When the skillet sizzled after a drop of water landed on it, she added the oil. Always, olive oil from a large can.
She said, “You see, kinderlah, the oil dat last’d?” We all nodded in agreement. “You makeh de oil dis dip. See, no, stay sitted.” We nodded yes anyway.
Then when the oil began to shimmer, Grandma B went into her trance. She forgot we were all sitting there as she molded blobs of potato and goo into small patties and dropped them by handfuls into the hot oil. It sizzled, shizzled and spat as she grinned and grabbed another handful. Soon the pan filled with golden orbs that made us drool as we watched Grandma B work.
With a slotted spoon, she flipped those blobs over as soon as they browned. We never knew how she could tell they had browned on the side you couldn’t see, yet she was right every single time she flipped one over.
When the backsides had browned, she moved those hot potato pancakes to a plate lined with a linen cloth. After she finished the batch, she would turn to us and yell, “No touch! Hot.”
She then poured sour cream into a small bowl with a spoon and her homemade applesauce into another bowl with a spoon. She gave us each a small plate and then set the latkes in the middle of the table. Grandma B announced, “Now, kinder, now eat, ah, yes, gud, gud.”
And it was good. Those hot potato latkes fried to a crisp with the cooling sour cream and applesauce made an incredible memory for all of us cousins.
This year I start a new tradition with my own grandson. I’ve already got my oil can and apron ready.