Little Lottie's Lighter Latkes: A Hanukkah Parable
Long ago there lived in Lithuania a little lass named Lottie.
Lottie’s mama and papa left for the Lower East Side of a city named New York to start a better life.
They left Lottie, temporarily, with Babushka Lena. (Babushka: a Slavic word for grandma because they all wore head scarves called babushkas, but that’s a whole ’nother story.)
Lottie was very, very lonely — especially during long December nights when other children lingered around their glowing Christmas trees.
“Why can’t we light candles on a Christmas tree?” Lottie queried.
“We light candles, just not on a tree,” Babushka Lena began. “We light candles on a candlestick holder with eight branches because we celebrate Hanukkah. Now isn’t that just as lovely?”
“No, no!” Lottie lamented. “My friends eat sugarplums and cakes and oranges and roast goose and snickerdoodles. I want to eat something special, too.”
“You will, child,” Babushka Lena continued. Because we are going to make latkes to share with your playmates.”
Somehow, potato pancakes didn’t thrill like marzipan angels. Still, little Lottie liked the idea of cooking with Babushka Lena.
The old woman lifted an ancient metal grater and a big stoneware bowl (with blue stripes, the kind that goes for $100 in antique shops) out of the cupboard. Lottie fetched potatoes and onions from the cellar and skipped across the snow to the hen house for freshly laid eggs.
“Now the real work commences,” Babushka Lena announced.
And work it was, peeling those potatoes with a dull knife, then grating them, along with the onions, which made Lottie cry, into the big bowl. More than once, Lottie scraped her knuckles, drawing blood.
Babushka Lena let Lottie mix the eggs into the grated potatoes and onions with a giant ladle. Because Manischewitz hadn’t invented matzo meal, she added some bread crumbs.
“Now the magic part,” Babushka Lena lilted as she poured oil into a black iron skillet heavier than Lottie’s black Lab, Lukshenkugel.
Lottie looked leery. Magic?
“This oil represents the tiny vial, enough for just one day, that burned for eight in the holy lamp after brave warrior Judah Maccabee reclaimed the Temple from infidels,” Babushka Lena lectured.
“Literally?” Lottie gasped.
Sadly, by now the grated potatoes had turned a gruesome gray. Babushka Lena lacked enough wood for a hot fire, so the oil barely sizzled. The potato latkes cooked up dark, leaden.
“I can’t share these lousy latkes with my friends,” Lottie moaned.
Nevertheless, Babushka Lena packed them into a basket, wished her lots-o-luck and sent Lottie on her way.
With a heart heavier than the latkes, Lottie arrived at school for the annual holiday lark. Her best friend, Ludmila, had brought lemon drops, while handsome young Ladislov, somehow, had copped a few licorice lieutenants. Lottie slowly lifted the linen towel covering the latkes. Lo and behold, they fairly floated out of the basket — crispy and light.
“Latkes, latkes! We love your latkes, Lottie!” the children shouted.
A double miracle, little Lottie thought, her eyes brimming with happy tears, not noticing the friendly fairy flitting by.
“This is the Festival of Lights,” trilled said fairy. “I have come to light your candles and lighten your latkes load. For the rest of Hanukkah, my magic machine will shred those potatoes lickety-split, guaranteeing lacy, luscious latkes. And I will leave Babushka Lena long logs for a hot fire.”
With that, the fairy flew away on a sour cream cloud.
Lottie was soon summoned by her parents to the Lower East Side, where everybody bought latkes at Lou and Lenny’s Deli. Babushka Lena, bless her heart, packed up the magic machine and moved from her village to Vilnius, where she opened Latkes Land — I Fry, You Buy.
Listen up: Hannukah ends on Dec. 18. Crank up your Cuisinart, pronto.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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