Last spring, during the last week of school, I corralled a handful of second grade boys into planting a bed full of potatoes. They, to be honest, would have rather been playing tetherball. But I told them, panic rising in my voice: “but if we don’t plant the potatoes, we won’t have latkes next winter!” That got ‘em digging. Everyone loves latkes, even the kids who don’t know what they are.
Truth be told, our potato bed didn’t fare as well as usual and this year’s latke potatoes were storebought. But the kids did follow the rhythm of it, spring planting for winter food.
The third grade focusses its learning around Hebrew culture, so this last week before winter break, latkes are always on the menu. They’ve been learning “Oh, Hanukkah” since kindergarten, so they are well primed by “Gather round the table, we'll give you a treat/Dreidels to play with and latkes to eat…” Though somehow, the religious significance of the oil and the festival of lights seems somewhat watered down by the proliferation of Santa hats around the table. Ah, well, we feed them, and some of it they absorb, right?
The Two (no-so-secret) Secrets to making good Latkes
Secret Number One: get the starch OUT of the potatoes!
Give each kid a good-sized potato to grate. Have two at a time dump their grated potato into a thin muslin cloth, twist it up and squeeze all the liquid out. Squeeze hard, then dump now-dry grated potato into a large bowl. Repeat for each pair of kids. Meanwhile, discuss all the possible uses for potato starch if you chose to save the “squozed-out” liquid and dry the starch.
Have each kid beat one egg and add to potato bowl, throw in a teaspoon or so of salt (we used about 1.5 teaspoons per dozen potatoes), and mix.
Secret Number Two: have the oil HOT!
This means that really, you have to read the kids a story while a parent fries the latkes in an insane frenzy of hot oil and flame. Remind them of the significance of the oil and the menorah. Serve those latkes hot off the stove (after a quick drain on paper towels), with the applesauce they made last week. Keep frying until everyone has had thirds and you are out of potato mixture.
Then, since they gobbled so fast, let them play in the woods until the time for garden class is over. ‘Cause there’s nothing like muddy feet to add a sense of the sacred into any day.