Thursday, April 21, 2011

Passover with the Confinos at 97 Orchard

This week many families are celebrating the Jewish holiday of Passover, or Pesach. During this holiday, traditional foods take on important symbolism during a ritual meal called a Seder. While the core elements of this holiday are universal, the observation of Passover varies between nationalities, cities and even families.

In 1916, the Confinos were one of three Sephardic Jewish families living at 97 Orchard St. Coming from Kastoria, in modern day Greece, the Confinos celebrated Passover slightly differently than their Eastern European neighbors.

The Confino Family c. 1911-1917

Since food is such an important part of Passover, some of the most noticeable differences between the Confinos' traditions and those of their neighbors had to do with the dishes they prepared and ate. Many of these foods reflected their Spanish ancestry. For example, rather than eating gefilte fish, the Confinos served "peshi di vinagre": chilled baked carp with a tomato and vinegar sauce.

Before the advent of refrigeration, the easiest way to keep the carp fresh was to keep it alive until the last possible moment. One descendant of the Confino family remembers going to her grandmother's house in the 1930's, saying, "My nona Rachel had a big humongous carp her bathtub swimming back and forth. I'd say to her, how are we going to eat this? And she'd say, 'I gotta hit it on the kavesa'. In other words--boom--on the head. But I never saw her do it."

The matzoh balls the Confinos prepared also looked slightly different from those of their Eastern European neighbors. These "albondegas" (very close to "albondigas", the Spanish word for meatballs), were small--a little big bigger than marbles--and very dense. One Confino descendant says that "people either love them or think they taste like lead pellets."

For dessert, the Confinos ate bumuelos (also known as buñuelos), matzoh meal dumplings fried in oil in a special pot, then cooked in a boiling sugar and honey syrup. These were served cold and topped with ground walnuts. After dinner, the adults would have enjoyed turkish coffee made in a long-handled pot called a finjan. This thick, sweetened coffee is known for being especially strong.

1 comment:

  1. My father Edward Deutsch, a first generation Jew was raised in a number of lower east side tenement apartments; he told a story about two local neighbor boys. Their mother purchased the live fish to make gefilte fish prior to Passover because the fishmongers raised the price as Passover drew close and yes they kept the fish alive in the bathtub, which was in the kitchen. The kids, who did not have any pets grew attached to the fish and when momma stirred him into food, they refused to eat it and became vegetarians out of their attachment to that fish.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.