- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2005

I have celebrated Passover in many parts of the world. Although the foods we eat and the languages we speak around the table might be different, the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt is always there, spellbinding children and adults alike.

At times such as these, family narratives and memories, modern exodus stories, are recounted, as I’m sure they will be Saturday night.

For Ethel Hofman, the author and food writer who has recently written a memoir, “Mackerel at Midnight” (Camino Books), the stories surrounding the Seder will be about growing up Jewish in Lerwick, the main town in Scotland’s remote Shetland Islands.

After fleeing the pogroms in the Soviet Union, her father, Harry Greenwald, went to Scotland as a peddler. Armed with a sense of adventure and the gift of gab, he and his brothers took a boat to Lerwick with a few baubles to sell. Eventually, the brothers left and Ethel’s father opened a jewelry (and later general) store called Greenwald’s.

The lone Jew in the area, he wrote to a shadkhan, an old-fashioned matchmaker, to find a bride in Glasgow, Scotland. Being so far away from Glasgow, he was a tough sell. Because Jean Segal, also an immigrant from Russia, was poor and had no dowry, she took a chance on a man who lived far from her family.

After they married and arrived on the island, Jean Greenwald was devastated by the bleakness of life, felt homesick for her family and was not thrilled with her husband. But as life has its ways of righting things, children came along and she settled into a routine. Eventually, she grew to love the moors and appreciate her husband, and Lerwick became home.

In the beginning, as Mrs. Hofman tells the tale, her mother wanted to keep a kosher home, but the first batch of meat she ordered from the kosher butcher in Glasgow arrived at the end of a long, hot journey crawling with maggots.

After screaming with fright, Mrs. Greenwald made a decision: “There’s no question my children must have meat, whether it is kosher or not. God will forgive me.” And thus began a lifelong relationship with the local butcher, whom she befriended while explaining what meat her family could and could not eat.

Finding fresh food, kosher or no, was not always easy in Lerwick. In winter, the hens often did not lay eggs. So the egg man taught Mrs. Greenwald how to preserve them in a solution of sodium silicate and water. Fresh vegetables were often shipped from abroad and more often than not were put up.

She learned to adapt and even flourish. Most people, for example, made fish and chips fried in lard, a fat made from rendered unkosher pork. Because Mrs. Greenwald made hers with olive oil, it was prized throughout Lerwick.

Although Mrs. Greenwald pickled herring all year, she made a special batch a month ahead of Passover. Chicken soup was made from whole chickens, including the feet. Beets were grated for sweet-and-sour borscht. And halibut and hake, delivered by a local fisherman, were turned into gefilte fish, poached and fried.

For Passover, planning was essential. Mrs. Greenwald started ordering her matzo bread and meal and Passover wine two months ahead. The matzo was mostly for Christian neighbors who liked this unleavened bread, symbolic of the exodus from Egypt, but the rest of the food was reserved for the family.

To get to Lerwick, goods traveled first by train from Glasgow to Aberdeen, where a boat traveled to the islands twice a week if it wasn’t stormy, which it often was.

Like other Jews throughout the millennia, the Greenwalds adapted their food to the environment in which they lived. But the Greenwalds had no other Jews with whom they could celebrate. As the lone Jewish family in Lerwick, they invited their Christian friends and neighbors to their home for the Passover Seder.

During World War II, when Allied soldiers, hundreds of them Jewish, came to protect the Shetland Islands from German-occupied Norway, Mrs. Greenwald organized a Seder for the soldiers.

Today, the Greenwalds are gone from Lerwick. And Mrs. Hofman, who lives near Philadelphia, makes all these recipes for her own family. However, in a global economy in which we can choose fresh food over canned, the plum pudding served with canned plums in Scotland can include fresh plums (which makes it taste more like a fresh crisp than a denser pudding).

For Mrs. Hofman, Passover is a time to make the recipes her mother had to improvise in Scotland. “What my mother did was to show how strong her faith was,” she told me. “It formed the foundation for my life.”

Fried gefilte fish

1 pound haddock fillets

pound hake fillets

1 small onion, cut in chunks

1 small scallion, green part only

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons salt

Scant teaspoon white pepper

to 3/4 cup matzo meal, plus more to coat

Vegetable oil for frying

Malt vinegar to sprinkle

Cut fish into 2-inch pieces. Place in food processor fitted with steel blade. Add onion; pulse until coarsely chopped.

Add scallion; pulse to chop coarsely. Transfer to a bowl. Stir in eggs, sugar, salt, pepper and enough matzo meal to form a soft but workable mixture. With wet hands, shape into 4 to 6 oval patties about 3/4 inch thick.

Dredge in additional matzo meal to coat on both sides.

Heat oil 1-inch deep in a large, heavy skillet. Fry patties over medium heat, turning once, until nicely browned on both sides, about 6 minutes total.

Drain on paper towel. Sprinkle with malt vinegar and serve at room temperature.

Makes 4 to 6 patties.

Salmon schnitzel

Nonstick cooking spray

1 pounds salmon fillet, about 1 inch thick

1 scallion, finely chopped

cup chopped mushrooms

1/4 cup chopped parsley

2 teaspoons vinegar

Olive oil for brushing

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Spray a small baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Cut the salmon into 4 pieces. With a sharp knife, cut a pocket in each, almost all the way through. Set aside.

In a bowl, mix the scallion, mushrooms, parsley and vinegar.

Stuff salmon pockets with the mixture. Place on prepared baking pan, skin side up. Brush generously with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Bake in preheated 400-degree oven for 15 minutes or until salmon flakes are opaque when separated and the skin is crisp.

You can also finish salmon under the broiler to crisp the skin.

Makes 4 servings.

Cinnamon-almond balls

Nonstick cooking spray

2 large egg whites

cup superfine sugar

2 cups finely ground almonds

3 teaspoons cinnamon, divided

cup kosher-for-Passover confectioners’ sugar

Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk egg whites until they form stiff peaks in a bowl. Stir in the sugar, ground almonds and 2 teaspoons of the cinnamon. Mix well enough that no white streaks remain.

Dampen your hands, and roll mixture into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Bake in preheated 325-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until barely firm to the touch. Do not overbake.

In a small bowl, stir confectioners’ sugar with remaining teaspoon cinnamon. Roll the balls, while warm, in this mixture. Cool and roll again. Makes about 15 to 20 balls.

Passover plum pudding

4 tablespoons unsalted butter or pareve margarine, melted and divided

2 cups coarsely crumbled matzo

2 large eggs

cup finely ground almonds

Grated rind and juice of 1 large lemon

cup sugar

6 fresh large plums, stones removed and cut into crescent shapes

1 teaspoon ground ginger

teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pour 1 tablespoon butter or margarine in a 1-quart-wide baking dish and brush over bottoms and sides. Set aside.

Place matzo in a bowl. Cover with warm water and soak 2 to 3 minutes until softened. Drain in a colander and squeeze as dry as possible, discarding liquids. Return to bowl. Add remaining melted butter or margarine, eggs, almonds, lemon rind and juice, sugar, plums, ginger and cinnamon; mix well.

Pour into prepared baking dish, and bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes or until the edges are firm, the top crisp and the center barely set. Serve hot or at room temperature alone or with whipped cream. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Joan Nathan is the author of “The Foods of Israel Today” and “Jewish Cooking in America” (Knopf) and hosts the PBS series “Jewish Cooking in America.”

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