For Marcel Proust, fond memories were famously triggered by a madeleine soaked in tea. For Marika Kuzma, owner of Portland’s Aurora Provisions, making her late mother’s stuffing takes her back to childhood Thanksgivings in Philadelphia, where the feast was influenced by flavors from her parents’ native Ukraine.
She and Aurora chef Leslie Oster call it “sentimental eating” – the taste, smell and even sound of food can impart what Proust described as the “all powerful joy” of a moment from the past.
Holiday foods are especially memory-bound, whether it’s the green bean casserole with crunchy fried onions expected at Thanksgiving or latkes just the way your mother made them for Hanukkah.
This year, both could be on the same table.
Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, begins early this year, at sundown on Nov. 27. So, on Nov. 28, the new world and very old world collide for a once-in-a-lifetime holiday some are calling Thanksgivukkah.
It’s not the first time (previous shared holidays occurred in 1888 and 1899). But experts have calculated that the next occurrence will be 79,043 years from now.
Knowing that, the name for the holiday mash-up was trademarked in 2012 by Dedham, Mass., resident Dana Gitell, who with her sister-in-law, Deborah Gitell (a Massachusetts native now living in Los Angeles), developed T-shirts and other products with the slogan: “Light, Liberty and Latkes.”
In the Jewish faith, Hanukkah is a less-significant holiday than Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur or Passover. It commemorates the victory by a small group of Jews (the Macabees) over a Greek-Syrian army that had taken over Israel and their temple. Upon rededicating the temple, they had only enough oil to keep the lamp lit for one day and night, but miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days and nights.
That miracle is widely celebrated by Jewish families, who light the menorah candles for eight nights, exchange gifts and feast on foods, such as potato latkes, fried in oil.
Food is, naturally, a major component of Thanksgivukkah. Recipes that combine both traditions – sweet potato latkes, challah stuffing – are everywhere on the Web, including the Thanksgivukkah Facebook page, which has more than 11,000 “likes.”
At the Thanksgivukkah Festival in Los Angeles, organized by Deborah Gitell, The Kosher Palate food truck will serve latkes with turkey gravy and Bibi’s Bakery truck will fry up pumpkin-filled sufganiyot – a Thanksgiving-inspired take on traditional Hanukkah doughnuts.
At Aurora in Portland, Kuzma and Oster are embracing the two-for-one holiday on their take-out menus, offering apple noodle kugel and Mama Kuzma’s borscht, as well as the popular stuffing – studded with dried apricots and chestnuts – cider butter and herb-roasted turkey, local maple horseradish Brussels sprouts and cranberry chutney.
While they expect the first night of Hanukkah to be the busiest for traditional foods like brisket and latkes, for the second night, many Jewish customers are mixing items from the Thanksgiving and Hanukkah menus, both of which include the borscht, Faroe Island salmon with blood orange and leeks, and chocolate souffle cake.
“People just started panicking about Hanukkah – the first two nights are the big ones,” said Oster. “A regular client just put in her annual Thanksgiving order and because I know she’s Jewish, I said, ‘You need some latkes.’ Nobody wants to cook latkes at home.”
Most people don’t want anything too different or creative for either holiday, she said.
“They remember the flavors – the kugel tastes like this – if you start putting in candied ginger or something, they don’t like it,” Oster said.
The same goes for Thanksgiving, although Kuzma’s Venetian onions – cippolini with raisins, pine nuts and capers – would make a tasty change from the traditional creamed onions for Jewish families adhering to kosher dietary laws, which prohibit serving dairy dishes with meat.
THANKSGIVUKKAH NOT FOR EVERYONE
Not all Jews are thrilled about the concept of Thanksgivukkah.
Joe Appel, communications director for Rosemont Market (who also writes the Press Herald’s weekly wine column), celebrates Hanukkah with his wife and two children, ages 12 and 8, lighting a new menorah candle for each of the eight nights.
“The basic summary of all Jewish holidays is: They tried to kill us, they couldn’t, let’s eat,” he said. “For me, Hanukkah falls into the same category as Christmas and Diwali; it’s a solstice holiday, bringing light in the midst of darkness. That’s different from Thanksgiving, which is a harvest celebration, a recognition of two cultures coming together. Both of these themes are worthy of celebration and to mash them up you lose some of the significance.”
Appel says he often feels a little bit of sadness at Thanksgiving, because “it’s rare that people give thanks.
“It’s already in danger of being a gorge fest. If you say, ‘Hey, throw it all into the mix,’ you lose any opportunity to pause and in the end, the food is eating you, you’re not eating the food.”
The big, messy mix is part of what it’s all about for Deborah Gitell.
Yet along with the fun stuff – the menurkey (a menorah shaped like a turkey) and crazy food combinations – she maintains that Thanksgivukkah has a deeper message not out of sync with Appel’s concerns.
“We all kind of take for granted it’s been kind of watered down to this huge dinner where we eat so much and watch football,” she said. “With Hanukkah landing on Thanksgiving, it really gives us a little more of a pause to think. A lot of Hanukkah is about being grateful. Being grateful for the oil, being grateful that this small band of fighters could defeat the Syrian Greeks who were trying to destroy the temple … that’s my Thanksgivukkah.”
Gitell also says the once-in-a-lifetime event offers a chance to enrich the American melting pot, and not just at the table.
“On the Facebook page, people are constantly sharing the content and really enjoying talking about Thanksgivukkah, mostly the food but also a level of the Jewish/American experience and how it translates to all the other people who come to this country, whether it’s for religious freedom or cultural expression … with all the problems we have, we are still so fortunate to be living in this country.”
A country where food memories are honored and “light, liberty and latkes” can be celebrated in equal measure with turkey and stuffing.
For more on Thanksgivukkah, visit thanksgivukkahboston.com.
Susan Axelrod can be contacted at 791-6310 or at: