What do you get when you cross a Victorian lady of London with Passover? About the same thing you get nowadays when you put the Jewish mothers of Washington, New York or Tel Aviv into a holiday kitchen: fried matzos.
The recipe for the dish, as it appears in "The Jewish Manual," a facsimile of the first Jewish cookbook in England, published in 1846, is still valid today.
Soak some of the thickest matsos in milk, taking care they do not break; then fry in boiling fresh butter. This is a very nice method of preparing them for breakfast or tea.
While much has been published about the Victorian era, and much has been written about Eastern European or Russian Jewish history, little has been discussed about the English Jews during the Victorian era, let alone their culinary habits.
Among the numerous works on Culinary Science already in circulation, there have been none which afford the slightest insight to the Cookery of the Hebrew kitchen.
"The Jewish Manual," re-discovered in 1981 by New York caterer Lila Gold while leafing through the card catalog at the New York Public Library one day, ties together this intriguing cultural mix. Written by Lady Judith Montefiore, the wife of an affluent London financier and philanthropist, the cookbook was meant to appeal to both fine Victorian households that wanted to uphold strict Jewish observances as well as offering advice to those rising up the social scale; it was not meant to be snobby.
All difficult and expensive modes of cookery have been purposely omitted, as more properly belonging to the province of the confectioner, and foreign to the intention of this little work; the object of which is, to guide the young Jewish housekeeper in the luxury and economy of "The Table," on which so much of the pleasure of social intercourse depends.
Nevertheless, this is a cookbook written by a sophisticated and knowledgeable cook. Included are recipes for Jewish dishes, English and French; there are recipes for matzo ball soup, fried sole in the "English way" and blanquette de veau.
In keeping with kosher dietary laws, the Montefiores traveled with their own shohet, or ritual slaughterer. The recipes are kosher, too; there is no intermingling of meat with dairy ingredients. In fact, recipes for cream and meat stock-based veloute' and bechamel sauces -- although they are not appropriate for the Jewish kitchen -- are followed by a substitute preparation.
Take some veal broth flavored with smoked beef, and the above named seasonings mace, onions, mushrooms, bay leaf, nutmeg and a little salt , then beat up two or three yolks of eggs, with a little of the stock and a spoonful of potato flour, stir this into the broth, until it thickens, it will not be quite as white, but will be excellent.
The republished "Jewish Manual," which is available at the Smithsonian's National Gallery of Art, as well as the B'nai Brith Museum Shop, includes several recipes for Passover, among them the fried matzos, matzo cakes, a Passover pudding and the following Passover fritters.
Mix into a smooth batter a tea-cup of biscuit powder with beaten eggs, and sweeten with white sifted sugar; add grated lemon peel, and a spoonful of orange flower-water, and fry of a light brown; the flavor may be varied by substituting a few beaten almonds, with one or two bitter, instead of the orange flower-water.
Translating the biscuit powder to matzo meal, the orange flower water to more readily available orange juice and the beaten almonds into food processor-ground almonds, the following Express Lane offers a modern-day interpretation of Lady Judith Montefiore's Passover fritters. All you will need is oil and sugar on your shelves before observing Passover, Victorian style.
EXPRESS LANE LIST: matzo meal, eggs, lemon, cinnamon, orange juice or almonds and almond extract
PASSOVER FRITTERS (Makes 8 fritters)
1 cup matzo meal
3 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons sugar 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
Juice of 1 large orange or 3 tablespoons ground almonds mixed into a paste with 2 teaspoons almond extract
Oil for frying
Cinnamon and sugar for serving (optional)
Combine matzo meal, eggs, sugar, lemon peel and orange juice in a bowl. Heat oil in a skillet until hot, spooning in about 2 tablespoons of batter for each fritter. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes, and flip to other side, cooking until brown. Serve sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.
To make almond fritters, add 3 tablespoons ground almonds mixed with 2 teaspoons almond extract in place of the orange juice, and mix in 2 to 3 tablespoons water.