Crispy, homemade potato latkes for Hanukkah, or to satisfy your next potato pancake craving!
What makes the perfect latke? Is it crisp level? Is it texture or condiments? Maybe for you, your love for latkes hinges on who made it. While we will never claim to have anything on your Bubbie’s latkes, we think the latkes we make at Zingerman’s Delicatessen are the next best thing. Or, you might find you fall in love with the Deli’s crispy, hearty latkes, served with applesauce and Calder Dairy sour cream, and make buying them your new family tradition!
Latkes are available at the Deli year-round, but during Hanukkah, the Deli kitchen crew goes into full-on latke production mode, soaking and shredding piles of Yukon Gold potatoes and Spanish onions, mixing with Grazing Fields eggs, flour, baking powder, salt and Tellicherry pepper and then dunking into the Deli’s fryer. Over the course of the week, the crew will make more than 3,000, accounting for 20 percent of our annual latke sales, which clocks in around 12,500!
Latkes are a dish that are special to many people thanks to family traditions and ancient, symbolic history. Read on to learn more about their lore to impress your friends and family at your next latke-studded gathering.
The History of Latkes
At Zingerman’s, we love learning about the history behind our favorite traditional foods, and that includes latkes! Today, they are a staple at any Hanukkah celebration.
Hanukkah, an eight-day Jewish holiday also known as the “Festival of Lights,” celebrates the rededication of the second Holy Temple of Jerusalem. This rededication took place upon its return to Jewish control following the successful Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd century B.C.E.
Part of the rededication of the temple included rebuilding its altar and lighting its menorah. Upon wresting control of the temple, there was only enough ritual oil to keep the menorah alight for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted eight days, coincidentally the exact amount of time it took for them to make more. Today, this miracle of oil is celebrated with the eight-day celebration of lighting of the menorah, games, gifts and traditional Hanukkah foods fried in oil – like latkes!
As our friend Joan Nathan, queen of American Jewish cooking, put it in the New York Times,
“The point of latkes at Hanukkah is not the potato but the oil. What matters is the recounting of the miracle of one night’s oil lasting eight nights in the temple over 2,000 years ago.”
While potato latkes are a fixture in today’s Hanukkah celebrations, they were first spotted in historical texts within the story of Judith, but they were made of cheese! Judith was a Jewish heroine who defeated Holofernes, the Assyrian army’s general, after feeding him salty, ricotta pancakes. Some believe Judith’s act of bravery took place during the same Maccabean revolt that preceded the miracle of Hanukkah, but others believe they took place hundreds of years apart. Either way, it was Judith who first introduced salty, fried pancakes.
But wait, why are the latkes we know and love today made of potatoes, not from the cheese of Judith’s story? Well, the birth of the potato latke, and evolution of the cheese latke, ultimately happened in response to the mass planting of potatoes that took place in Poland and Ukraine. As a result, the majority of latkes today are made from potatoes, but it’s worth noting, they can be made using shredded vegetables or like Judith’s recipe, with cheese!
Another evolution of the latke over time is the fat they’re cooked in. While it’s symbolic and traditional to cook latkes in oil, schmaltz rendered from chickens, geese, or beef was a common cooking fat when olive oil wasn’t available.
Or, order in bulk from our Hanukkah menu and get them cold, ready to reheat for your own celebration. Visit zcob.me/hanukkah or call us at 734.663.3400.
Either option is available for pickup at the Deli or Ann Arbor delivery.