Homemade Gefilte Fish, What makes Preparation for the Passover Different?
Today was a busy one with the opportunity to spend the morning learning and assisting in the preparation of homemade Gefilte fish with Flossie Albert, and, her son-in-law Glen, and grandson, Noah.
Three generations participating together towards the upcoming ritual observation of the Passover Seder meal, while Flossie’s daughter, Debbie attended to details of the table settings and arrangements before preparing her designated jobs of food preparation.
Flossie Albert has spent most of her lifetime preparing for annual Passover Seders and in her family the religious and cultural preparations surrounding food and food products follow a strict timeline in order to observe the history following the designated traditions.
So what makes the food observance and preparation for the Passover Seder different, is it the Gefilte Fish? Well, the Gefilte Fish are a traditional food often shared at the Passover Seder Meal, not part of any religious significance, more like representative foods eaten among Eastern European ancestors past, but within the Kaddesh, meaning the order of the Seder Dinner, this single dish, Gefilte Fish is generally served as part of number eleven at the Passover Seder, Shulhan Orekh, meaning, enjoy the Festival Meal.
Given the Gefilte Fish come in at number eleven among the many traditional and symbolic foods shared at the Seder meal provides just a glimpse into all of the hard work and preparation that goes into the entire process. If you have ever prepared fresh Gefilte Fish as I learned for the first time today, it is a time-consuming effort and labor of love, likely best prepared with others.
The lengthy timing in the preparation process, however, enabled me extra time with Flossie as she provided some further insights among religious symbolism’s associated with the meal along with history in her family.
Well before the day of preparing the Gefilte Fish, Flossie has already been busy preparing observances since weeks prior. One of the distinctions within Passover revolves around food, or rather abstention from certain things. Remembering the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt when fleeing did not provide enough time for the bread to rise, the law of observance is not to consume Chametz, anything leavened throughout Passover, and the unleavened Matzoh is a representative food to be eaten during this time.
A few weeks before Passover, Flossie first transforms her kitchen, cabinets fully cleaned, all dishware and equipment are removed from the area and replaced with kitchen items, including a food processor and mixer specifically designated for Passover preparation.
As each cabinet is complete she marks each with a string signifying that the cabinet is cleaned and free of all leaven containing products. “It’s a lot of work” says Flossie “but I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world.” “During Passover as God commanded, we remember what was done for the Jews, freeing them from slavery in Egypt, so it is also a remembrance too of our ancestors and all of the hard work and tears that were shed.”
” When we were young, and my late husband was full of vigor, I even used to make him re-paint the kitchen before Passover every year.” Flossie expresses with some sadness reflecting the loss of her love and long time spouse, “Bernie was absolutely wonderful around the Passover, he really enjoyed the traditions, and we were both so involved together around the celebration with our family.”
Following the transformation of the kitchen and removal of leavened food products, Flossie then hires movers each year who come into her home and remove all the furniture out of her family room. Leaving a completely open area for the Seder meal, the set- up then transforms to three sturdy long size tables decked with crisp, pressed white tablecloths, designing a u-shape so that all of the thirty-five or more family participants sharing in the Seder can fully be active participants in the ritual meal while fully seeing each other, praying, conversing, singing, and experiencing the tradition together.
Even in the loss of her husband, Bernie, Flossie continues on the tradition of the Passover, partly as an example to her family, ever sharing what is different about this time each year, the rich traditions of the Jewish faith and cultural past.
Even the efforts of the fresh homemade Gefilte fish reflect the ancestors of Eastern Europe, “They were poor in that region and the carp for the Gefilte fish preparation is what was most commonly available and affordable, this also helps us remember.” She said. “Chicken too was cheap and available,” another reason Flossie also includes a Stuffed Chicken dish along with the selection of number eleven in the Kaddesh, the dishes that create a part of enjoying the Festival.
Although the recipe from Flossie’s Mother calls for eight pounds of fresh carp, this years catch from Flossie’s fishmonger: Bralow’s Fresh Seafood on Bustleton Avenue in Philadelphia topped in at a whopping eighteen pounds, thus Flossie aligned a little tweaking with the additional ingredients then overall doubling the eggs. The broth, once boiled then simmered wafted the whole household with an indescribable scent except to say there was love in the air, and a distinct feeling on something special about to occur in this home.
After about four hours, including simmering time for the broth, completely wetting our hands, we are then ready to begin shaping the mixture into an elongated oval shapes about three inches or less long, similar to an egg, carefully dropping each first, on top of the carp skin that sits underneath the gently bubbling broth. Once one line is complete, the next row is placed in the pan and on. Once all of the pan is filled, having been in a pan for a bit of time, the Gefilte fish seem to shrink a bit, and slightly bobble allowing room to fit more of the shaped ovals into the open spots.
As needed, Flossie then adds in more of the fish broth, and before finally covering the lid of the pan, barely, if even barely covering the Gefilte fish that will continue to cook for close to another hour and a half before being done.
As I complete today’s Post on the role of Gefilte Fish toward the Passover Seder dinner, along with the homemade preparation from the kitchen of Flossie Albert, the Gefilte Fish are now finished cooking. Now cooling in refrigeration, the Gefilte Fish will remain until they are plated as part of the Seder Meal at the Albert home. Post Tuesday evening on Spiced Peach Blog you can then enjoy seeing the finished Gefilte Fish displayed, along with other featured dishes, the Sacramental plate with the symbolic foods, and many of the traditions shared on the Passover Seder Dinner from the home of Flossie Albert.