Happy Hanukkah! (With a potato latke tutorial)

Thursday, December 2, 2010
This may come as a shock, but Hanukkah isn't a real big deal in northern Minnesota. We're all too busy being Lutheran and Scandinavian this time of year to bother with dreidels, latkes, and menorahs. Unless you're at my house.

Growing up in the great Northwoods, I swear sometimes it felt like we were the only non-Scandinavian household in a 250 mile radius. (We're Irish and English). And for whatever reason, my mother opted not to educate my brother and I about Scandinavian Christmas traditions like St. Lucia, lefse and lutefisk, but instead about the Jewish Celebration of Light: Hanukkah.

We read books like The Chanukkah Guest, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, and Stories for Children. We attempted to make latkes, although that project always ended with the house filling with smoke and the fire alarm going off. There was no menorah, no blessings, just an acknowledge that any chance to celebrate light in these dark December days is a very good thing.

I've been reading Sarah's Key (which is excellent) this past week which discusses the French roundup of Jews in 1942 in compliance with the Nazis. When I noticed that Hanukkah was right around the corner, it seemed like a good time to try out those potato latkes again. Last night I gave it a whirl and surprised myself with successful (and delicious) results.

Here's how to make potato latkes. (I got this potato latke recipe out of Better Homes and Garden's Heritage Cookbook.)

Step 1:  Place your smoke detector within easy reach. Surprisingly, ours didn't go off last night when I was making these, which is quite shocking because it likes to go off when we make toast. Anyway . . .

Step 2: Place in a bowl:
3 cups shredded bakers potatoes
1/2 cup minced onion (it said to shred these, which probably worked with a food processor, but I found it much faster just to mince these.)
2 eggs
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt.

Mix together and drop in tablespoons on a hot, greased griddle. Flatten out the latkes slightly with the back of a spoon.

You want your griddle to be very well oiled with chicken fat or vegetable oil, but not so well oiled that the vegetable oil is actually standing on the griddle. (You can see this skillet has a little too much oil in the far right corner.) We're going for pan-fried not deep-fat fried here. The recipe said to cook the latkes for 2 minutes on each side. My griddle must not have been hot enough because it took more like 4-5 minutes per side to get these golden brown and crispy.

Voila: latkes. Lots of recipes tell you top these with applesauce but I have distinct memories of not liking that much as a child. Personally, I'd recommend going the savory route: sour cream, cheese, etc. etc.

While I made the latkes, Andy roasted pieces of venison over the wood stove.To me, the holidays is all about mixing up traditions, Christmas pageants and potato latkes, or in this case: Northwoods Barbarianism and Judaism.

Happy Hanukkah!


  1. Ada, Happy Hanukkah! I loved reading about the way your mom broke from the pack and taught you and your brother about another culture/religion. My mom is Jewish (which makes me Jewish too, although we're not practicing), and I gotta tell ya, your recipe is definitely the real deal! It's just like the way my mom makes latkes, and the way her mom made them too! I love it!

  2. I adored this story! I grew up in the Twin Cities and like you have a part Irish background and learned about hanukkah because we had quite a few Jewish friends. I am also part Norwegian but we never focused on that at the holidays. I never tried lutefisk until I was married, at then it was only the once, (that's all it took to know better). Now that we live in Northern MN its incredible the Scandinavian traditions I have learned about that I never knew existed! Thanks for a wonderful blog that reflects where we live, I am looking forward to reading more. :)


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