There’s a lot of tradition associated with the Festival of Lights, which is probably not a surprise since it’s a holiday that has roots in events more than two thousand years ago.
One of the most popular traditions these days is latkes, though this delicious part of Hanukkah has definitely seen a few changes over the years.
And food historians say that’s ok, since the key part of the recipe is that it’s cooked in oil, to remember how the small amount of oil in the temple, one day’s worth, ended up lasting for eight days.
Today the cooking oil of choice is often olive oil, though that wasn’t always the case for the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe who came to the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In that time in eastern Europe, people often used schmaltz, a rendered animal fat that often came from beef or poultry.
At one point in the US, the oil of choice was Crisco!
And long, long ago, the latkes people would’ve eaten for Hanukkah wouldn’t have been potato pancakes.
They were often made from grains like buckwheat or rye.
Later, latkes had roots in an Italian recipe for deep-fried ricotta cheese pancakes.
Potatoes arrived in Europe in the 16th century.
They didn’t really make their way into eastern European areas for a few hundred years after that.
But once they did, they became a staple crop that virtually anyone could access or afford, at least compared to Italian cheese.
And so by the time the word “latke” started showing up in American dictionaries, the modern combination of oil and potatoes was set.
And while they may not be the exact ingredients used at every single Hanukkah in history, the latke’s many fans are definitely not complaining.
All that said, I’m not the expert on Hanukkah or its traditions, so check out the links below to learn more.
This afternoon in Marengo, Indiana, Caroling in the Cave!
Not only do you get to visit a historic cave, you get to sing some festive songs in there.
I’m told Santa’s even supposed to stop by.
How Latkes Became Hanukkah’s Favorite Food (HowStuffWorks)
Everything You Know About Latkes Is Wrong (The Atlantic)
Caroling In The Cave/Marengo Cave (Visit Indiana)
Photo by slgckgc via Flickr/Creative Commons