I teach music at a Jewish day school, and I have been sharing this charming little children’s song with my younger students, which I learned from a Jewish music-teacher friend of mine. This song reminded me that my family shares some culture and language with Ashkenazi Jews, which is not too surprising considering that my maternal grandmother’s ancestors hail from Eastern Europe. In fact, another dear Jewish friend of mine helped me figure out that his great grandfather in Poland lived only about 50 miles from my great-grandmother Amelia in Lvov, Galicia (now Ukraine).
I myself grew up with several Yiddish words in my vocabulary, which I learned from my mother who learned them from my grandmother, Sophia. Sophia spoke Swabian (a German dialect, also called ‘Swabish’), and apparently, she could understand Yiddish as well. This is less surprising if you consider that Yiddish is also a dialect of German, although it is written in the Hebrew alphabet. And, like Amelia’s Jewish neighbors, potato pancakes (better known to some as ‘latkes’) are a tradition in our family.
It was pointed out to me recently that the lyrics of “Take a Potato” instruct you to roll the potato. I assume this is an example of artistic license, since everyone I know grates potatoes for their latkes. However, to quell the complaints of the literalists, here is my grandmother Sophia’s recipe for potato pancakes.
Potato Pancakes (Latkes)
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
3 large potatoes, raw
1 medium onion
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
pepper to taste
oil for cooking
Finely grate the potatoes and onion into a bowl. Drain excess water.
Add pepper, salt and flour, and stir. The mixture is right when it is not too dry and not too watery. Stir the eggs in last.
Heat the oil in a frying pan. For each pancake, put a two-tablespoon-size scoop of the mixture into the hot oil. Keep the heat high but be careful not to burn the pancakes. Fry them until they are golden brown on both sides. They should be served hot from the frying pan, with sour cream or applesauce.
My mother’s Prairie Pantry cook-book suggests this variation for children, although I don’t know if anyone in my family has ever tried it:
For children, the onion can be replaced by a grated apple and the pancakes can be served with sugar.