March 30, 2011

Soup to Nuts:
The ancients' way to make matzah

For their historical significance (to say nothing of their superior taste), a local synagogue is spreading the word about the beauty of biblical wheats.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Emmer wheat is used to make traditional matzah that dates to biblical times.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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On baking day at Congregation Bet Ha’am in South Portland, Lisa Munderback tends to matzah in the oven as Donna Landau observes.

Additional Photos Below


THE PUBLIC IS INVITED to all events, but RSVPs are requested to be sure there is enough food and materials. To reserve a spot, call 879-0028 or email

ALL EVENTS WILL BE HELD at Congregation Bet Ha’am, 81 Westbrook St., South Portland. Everything, including lunch, is free except for the matzah making on Sunday. That part of the program will have a $5 fee to cover the cost of the rare organic flours.

11:45 a.m. – Luncheon. Be sure to let the organizers know if you require a kosher meal.
1 p.m. – Study Circle I: Ancient Grain Celebrations through the Jewish Seasons, Liberation and Food Systems
2 p.m. – Study Circle II: How to Grow Heritage Grains – Restoring Maine’s Heritage of Wheat and Bread Traditions

12:30 p.m. – Luncheon. Be sure to let the organizers know if you require a kosher meal.
Following lunch – Study Circle on Traditions of Matzah and Wheat
Following study circle – Matzah Making


1 part water (cold)

3 parts flour (approximately)

Knead quickly into firm, non-sticky dough. Divide into 1- to 1 1/2-inch balls, the rounder the better. Roll out to 1/8 inch or less thickness. Poke holes all over to prevent bubbles. Bake on tiles, at hottest oven setting, until crispy (2 to 3 minutes). No more than 18 minutes should elapse from the touch of the water to matzah coming from oven.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

You will need:

Cookie sheet or jelly roll pan lightly brushed or sprayed with a bit of olive

oil (optional)


Olive oil

Tomato sauce

Cheese, shredded

Vegetarian pizza toppings of choice

Place matzah on lightly oiled pan. Brush matzah with a little flavorful olive oil. Then spoon on tomato sauce (your favorite, or buy kosher for Passover). Sprinkle with shredded cheese (can also be kosher for Passover). Add toppings such as olives or thin sliced vegetables. Place pizza in oven until cheese melts. You may wish to put on broil for a minute or so.

Cut into manageable-sized pieces. This pizza is like the thinnest Neopolitan crust pizza. Be creative!

The South Portland project reflects a growing demand nationally for gluten-free, organic Passover foods. There's even a bakery in Vermont that is making what it calls "Vermatzah" – unleavened bread made with emmer, one of the heritage wheats that will be explored in "The Mystery of Matzah."

Emmer, with its beautiful purple head, is known as "mother wheat," Rogosa explained.

"All other wheats evolved from emmer, and emmer was the only grain that was eaten in ancient Egypt," she said. "It grows wild in Israel, of all places on the planet."

Einkorn, the first wheat mentioned in the Old Testament, "was the grain eaten by Abraham and Sarah," Rogosa said. It has a richer flavor than modern matzah, which "has plummeted into an almost lifeless cardboard."

"When you see these ancient grains that I grow, which are taller than you and me, it's like this virtual reality in the field of waving grains," Rogosa said. "They're delicious and they are alive and they sing and they have a soul. And then you see (the results of) Midwest mechanization. Modern grains have been bred to be less than half the height. Their roots have been shortened so they can quickly absorb synthetic chemicals. And that's why people have been getting sick from gluten. It wasn't a problem 100 years ago."

The seeding rate for modern wheat, Rugosa notes, is 100 to 150 pounds per acre. "I plant 5 pounds per acre, each seed 1 foot apart, and it fills up the entire field because the old grains are big, bushy plants with deep root systems and big, fat heads," she said.

The difference in taste and texture, Rosenberg says, is like eating whole grain pizza baked in a wood-fired oven instead of grabbing a white-crust slice from the corner store. The einkorn and emmer are richer, nuttier and earthier.

But the synagogue's heritage wheat project isn't just about making a better-tasting matzah. It's about honoring what the earth has given in its natural state, Rosenberg said, and undoing some of the excesses of modern agriculture.

"One of the values in Judaism is called tikkun olam, and it means healing the world," she said. "This is a great way to heal the world."

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

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Additional Photos

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Donna Landau, Lisa Munderback, Steve Steinbock and Toby Rosenberg formed a matzah-making assembly line last week at Congregation Bet Ha'am in South Portland.

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Steve Steinbock mixes flour and water for a batch of matzah. Congregation Bet Ha’am hosts “The Mystery of Matzah,” a celebration of ancient grains, this weekend.

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Emmer is known as "mother wheat," says Elisheva Rogosa, an organic farmer and scholar, because "all other wheats evolved from emmer ... It grows wild in Israel, of all places on the planet."

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