Can You Smell That Smell?

Posted by mwallach on March 13, 2011 in New To You, Tribe Members |

Dear That’s Life,

Certain smells bring me right back to my childhood. In an instant, I can be transported back to being a little girl in footie pajamas, standing at the top of the stairs. I cannot always predict when it will happen, when the moment will strike, but I know it will happen at Purim. The moment I smell prunes stewing on the stove, over a low flame, mixed with raisins, just long enough for them to plump back up, I am seven years old all over again.

That aroma is how I knew it was Purim, as my mother always made her own prune filling, as did her mother and generations of women who came before me. Buying lekvar was never a consideration. I am no different and the prune filling I make for our hamantashen brings me back to my mother’s kitchen. My children insist on being creative with the filling we use, including chocolate chips and this year’s request: nutella. Personally, the raspberry hamentashen my husband insists on every year is as creative as I am willing to be. I am a prune purist: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I am not sure what it is, though, that makes eating hamentashen after Purim the equivalent of eating Pesach mandle cuts even ten minutes after the holiday is over. It is just wrong. As tempting as they are before Purim, and as much as I try to justify eating them because they have a real fruit filling and are therefore ‘healthy’, you could not pay me to eat them the next day.

As if it were also a holiday tradition, I am mocked by at least one friend for making my own prune filling. I protest: fresh is better than canned and I make a really good filling. There is no point in standing up for myself, as it is more about the ribbing than anything else. I have been known to make various things from scratch that many buy ready made. Knowing this about me, my son asked me one year why I don’t make my own matzah for Pesach. I thought it was a cute comment and it has become a running joke: my husband always ends up assuring someone that while I make many things from scratch, I draw the line at matzah.

I scour the food magazines that arrive in my mailbox every spring for new and exciting recipes to grace one of the many yumtiv meals I will prepare. Ironically enough, this month’s edition of Food and Wine Magazine (which I covet) has a recipe for, you guessed it: matzah. Written by a columnist who went to a matzah factory and said to herself, ‘I can do this,’ she devised and perfected a recipe. Of course, it has more than two ingredients and cannot be served on Pesach, but all of a sudden I said to myself: I may just be able to do this, too.

Of course, that was ridiculous and I had no intention of making my own matzah, especially one that could not be used on Pesach. Instead, we did one better: we went to the Shatzer matzah factory in Boro Park. Not since I was a young child had I baked matzah, so long ago that I barely remember the experience. Today, however, my children helped bring the expertly rolled matzot to the oven, my husband was able to add water to the dough and I was mafrish challah on the batch of matzah we helped make.  Pretty cool.

Leaving the factory with brown paper bags of broken shmurah, I inhaled deeply, taking in the aroma that freshly baked matzah emits. Now I have another smell that will bring me back to an exact moment in my life. I may not have kneeded the dough myself nor baked it in my own oven, but this was as close to making my own shmurah matzah as I’ll ever get – and it was perfect.

MLW

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