(by Barbara Ballinger)
From as far back as I can remember, my mother, known as “Gammy” in our family, made potato latkes for our Hanukkah celebrations. Not the thick Frisbees in deli cases. Hers were hand-grated using unblemished Idaho baking potatoes, dropped by teaspoonfuls into sizzling hot oil, celebrating the legend of the Hanukkah miracle, when a small amount of oil to light the candles of the menorah lasted eight days.
Before she started, she would ask whether two, three, or four potatoes would suffice, always seeming surprised that our craving for them was insatiable. (“You ate all of them?”) She always asked my dad to sample one before they were served, golden brown and crispy around the edges, along with a dish of applesauce. “Joe, how are they? Is there enough salt?” she said, as if reading from a script. And he always gave his approval, proclaiming them “perfect.” He knew his lines well.
One big bite, and the pancake was gone. Each of us wanted another, and then another. My mother never seemed to fry enough to satisfy the family and friends who gathered in the kitchen after lighting the menorah. I don’t recall her ever eating any herself, but urging us to “have another” or “just one more.” It was the classic maternal selflessness of pancake preparation: Mom standing at the stove until everyone is served. I imagine it’s similar with the pancakes of every culture, whether Russian olady, Swedish raggmunk, or American buttermilk. Mom was always the last to eat, or took the smallest portion.