Passover’s just around the corner and in an effort to wrap my head around the enormity of renovating, cause let’s face it, getting rid of every scrap of “chametz” is a major overhaul to your blissful carbohydrate filled domicile, I started picking away at my pantry. Stale boxes of crackers are always the first to go. And then I discover it, that dusty, once almost cheerful, nay comforting orange, green and pasty-white box of Manischewitz Matzo Ball Mix. Oh, that juicy, fluffy knaidel on the box while tempting to some could very well be the bane of my existence. Why? Because the more dense and “rock-like” the kneidel, the better it is, in my opinion. It’s a texture thing. Needing a knife with a serrated edge to saw through it is sheer pleasure. And for some odd reason, the denser it is the better the flavor is too – like pasta that tastes better al dente.
Growing up my brother’s and I fought over the “sinkers” as we called my mother’s matzo balls. While her objective was to produce her ideal melt-in-your-mouth delicacy so necessary to complete the chicken soup, she often achieved, to her chagrin, kneidels so tough my Zaide avoided them for fear of losing his dentures.
Since I left my mother’s house in Toronto and moved to Denver I have plumbed the depths of Denver’s Jewish community for “sinkers”. At every Passover table for 15 years I have, with great anticipation, sunk my spoon into Mrs so-in-so’s matzo balls only to see the thing collapse under the weight of my utensil. “Why don’t you make your own”, you ask? My own matzo balls are disastrous, tasteless fluff balls that disintegrate if they even see a spoon coming.
I have consulted with many surrogate mothers (my family and I have been adopted by several here in the Mile High City), but no one seems to know the secret. One suggested adding an extra egg to toughen up the mixture – they turned out lighter than ever – like clouds for floating on air. Another suggested I patchky more with the mixture. I nearly beat it to death and yet against the law of gravity (and maybe even something in the Torah) it came out weightless, floating defiantly on top of my soup.
Once at a Seder in 1997 I had a chimera of hope when on the topic of hard versus soft, that is to say hawks versus doves in Israeli politics, we drifted into the consistency of knaidlach.
While we debated, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to face a woman I hadn’t noticed because she had been in the kitchen helping the hostess most of the meal. “The middle daughter of my first cousin twice removed makes hard ones,” she whispered.
“Oh.” I leaned in conspiratorially. The woman’s silver hair was wound into a tight chignon, but a few strands escaped and hung giddily around high cheekbones. Her eyes sparkled, like she had just shared the most wonderful secret. I was taken in. Maybe this was it.
“How does she do it?” I whispered back.
“I don’t know. You’ll have to ask her. Her name is Myra Blickstein, the Idaho Blickstein’s. She lives in Idaho, lots of potatoes there. Look her up.
As Had-gad-ya came to a close and Hirsh Lipsky banged his fleshy fist on the table to the beat, I noticed the sliver haired lady was gone – to the kitchen I supposed. After the holiday I called Myra Blickstein. Of the Idaho Blicksteins. I told her I’d met her first cousin thrice removed in Denver and she said, “I don’t remember who dat is.”
“Blickstein, somebody Blickstein.” Why hadn’t I gotten the mystery woman’s first name?
“So, what you want?”
“I heard you make amazing knaidlach and I was wondering… well your cousin said you might give me your recipe.”
“Estie!” It blasted through my eardrum. “She’s been trying to get my recipe for years. Tell her she can’t have it. She’ll never have it. I’ll take it to the grave!”
I was so close, but could feel the secret slipping away.
Still every year I continue to hold out hope for a revelation.
And every year I get the same advice.
“Don’t do anything, and do not use the box.” Okay, so I don’t use the box. I follow the “Foolproof Matzo Balls” recipe in an old cookbook I dig up and ‘don’t do anything’ as my mother suggests, and low and behold I once again manufacture the incorrigible “floater”. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a mile high up here that’s throwing the recipe off.
I’m sick and tired of trying. The economy is bad, my wrist is sore from whisking eggs for practice chiffon cakes and bubelahs and my craving for “sinkers” is stronger than ever.
I was just home for my nephew’s bar mitzvah and got to see the whole mishpuchah which was so nice. I cave. I pick up the phone and dial. “Ma, guess what? I have some good news. We’re coming home for Pesach this year.” (She’s kvelling) “Yeah, it’s great isn’t it? Listen, I was wondering, will you be making your soup?” (She wants to know, “what kind of strange question is that?”) “Nothing, Ma, it’s nothing. I was just wondering. I’ll see you soon okay. Bye.”
My mouth starts to water at the thought of her knaidlach.