A Brief History of Latkes

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We love you a latke. 

Latkes are made with simple ingredients, yet are steeped in complex history. Anyone who has tasted one will know that they will have you wishing Hanukkah gelt was made of latkes, not chocolate. While the crispy, golden potato pancakes remain the magnum opus of Jewish dinner tables everywhere, they are not the traditional latke recipe. Hey, we’re not saying your Bubbe doesn’t make the best latkes, they are just not the original latkes– sorry. The traditional latke was a deep-fried Italian ricotta pancake that was made famous by a beheading.

 

Eight crazy nights. 

Let’s start with the oil. The abridged version: An ancient temple in Jerusalem that housed the eternal flame was pillaged, and the oil remaining was barely enough to last one day. The miraculous story of Hanukkah is that the oil kept the flame burning for eight straight days. Now, the prodigious oil is used to fry sufganiyot and latkes worldwide. We know fried food gets a shameful reputation because… fried butter sticks (we’re looking at you, Texas). However, during Hanukkah, the frying oil is a symbol of religious endurance.

 

Slay, Judith, slay. 

The aforementioned beheading (don’t think we forgot) is the creation catalyst of the latke. The custom of frying a pancake in eternal flame oil was based on the story of Judith. Judith was the OG Bubbe. She tricked an invading military general with Italian wine and her deep-fried ricotta pancakes until he fell into a wine/food coma. She then beheaded him, and mounted his head on a wall in her village. The latke is now used to recognize Judith’s fierceness in an oh-so delicious way.

 

No pumpkin spice latkes here. 

Evolving through the ages as the potato was introduced to Europe and Crisco was introduced to potatoes, the latke now takes the form that everyone knows and loves. If you need something else to talk about other than politics at the table this year, remember Judith, the Jewish warrior that gave you the gift of latkes.

 

Did this make you suddenly hungry for latkes? Us too. We’ve got you covered here. They might be better than Bubbe’s (shhh, we won’t tell).