The Pesach Notebook

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07 Apr 2014

It’s the day after Purim and time to take down my Pesach notebook. Unlike the pots and pans and dishes that are packed up and put away in the back of the basement shed each year, my notebook waits for me nearby on the closet shelf. It is always in sight, though it is stored and hidden in its green plastic bag. My husband jokes that it must be a letdown to actually take out the notebook 4 weeks before Pesach, when I have been talking about it since right after Sukkos.

My notebook contains lists. Lists of basic foods to buy; lists of fruits and vegetables; lists of menus and what to make when, and lists of what I bought from year to year. But the notebook is also a history book. Besides listing menus for all the yomtov meals, it has notes of who was coming for Pesach that year and how many people were at each meal and seuda.iStock_000000301986Small

I started leafing through the familiar pages. So many years have gone by and many people are no longer here. I smile when I see the note to buy rhubarb for my father and stop to count that this is the 9th Pesach without him.

It is the first Pesach without my mother in law and I realize I won’t be able to call her and let her know how my sweet and sour fish turned out. I learned how to make it at her side when she passed the baton to me as the sedarim moved to our house. Each year (and it has been many more than 20) I would call to double check that I was doing it right and then let her know how it turned out. This year I am on my own.

There are recipes stuffed into my notebook as well. I see my mother’s handwriting – so neat and precise. And a recipe she cut out of a newspaper, now yellowed with age. She attached the two pages of the recipe with a needle, since apparently she did not have any staples, and it has stayed that way throughout the years. I smile at her ingenuity, though I don’t know why I kept the recipe, since it is something I have never made in all these years. I suppose I kept it because it reminds me of her.

With the explosion of cookbooks, magazine columns and online venues, there is no shortage of Pesach recipes to try. Each year I add to my collection of menu possibilities. But when I look through all the notebook pages, I see that the tried and true favorites that appear year after year are the ones I took from my mother and my mother in law over the years.

Pesach is in the air already. I hang the “Pesach – Keep Out’ sign on the cabinet I have designated to receive all the food I have yet to buy. The sign is faded and apparently some water must have gotten on it one year, as there is a big blotch of running purple. It would be easy to print a new one but I can’t let go of the tradition of seeing the familiar each year.

When I was a child I did not like Pesach. It meant schlepping out all the dishes, drying the glasses as they were unwrapped from their newspaper swaddling and washed to put away. It meant peeling potatoes and standing in the kitchen, stirring something under my mother’s direction. I never understood why my mother would always say that Pesach is her favorite holiday.

I get it now. I love taking down my notebook and figuring out which meal will have which kugel; which side dish will tempt the grandchildren. Which main dish will satisfy my husband and sons in law. I like my lists and knowing that from potato starch sugar and eggs, many sweet derivations will appear.
It isn’t all easy sailing in the next four weeks. Even with all those lists, things don’t always go as planned. And I don’t have the Pesach kitchen I once had, which made everything so much simpler.

But, I do love Pesach now. Though they are not with me at my table, my mother and mother in law and all the other loved ones who are no longer here, have left their imprint on me. And I hope that my daughters too will someday have their own Pesach notebooks, and come to the seder with the same sense of contentment that I do each year.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.