— By Camille DePutter
There is something special about being introduced to someone else’s food traditions. This year at Passover, for our second night Seder hosted at my in-law’s house, we had several people at the table who’d never been to a Passover Seder. Everything for them was new and fresh, from the rituals right down to the matzah and the sweet, sweet kosher wine. It’s a joy to share the practices of this holiday and the meaning behind them – and the delights of the food we eat – with people who have never experienced it before, and who bring a curiosity and appreciation to the table with them. Of course, I was once such a guest.
My husband is Jewish and my background is Catholic. We first started sharing holidays with each other about 15 years ago, when we were teenagers. As a result, the Jewish holidays have meaning and familiarity to me and have been a part of my life for a long time. But I can also relate to the experience of newness and the general sense of uncertainty that our guests feel at a Seder, trying to follow along, understand, and demonstrate their respect for the new things they are encountering.
Back to the food: crossing our food cultures is one of the best things about being in an inter-faith relationship. At Passover (and many other times throughout the year for that matter), one of my favourite foods is gefilte fish – a light, mild loaf made of white fish served with beet horseradish. It’s one of those foods that is unfamiliar to a lot of people – and I love it. Slightly more familiar to the average eater is matzah ball soup; something I’m also grateful to have as a comfort food staple in my life. And brisket, so tender, in a rich gravy… yum. Quite unlike the roast beef I was used to at holiday meals. I’d have to say each is delicious in their own way – and I’m glad to have both.
I could go on. Of course, naturally we complain and joke about the things we don’t like, too. The ridiculously sweet wine. The amount of eggs it takes to bake anything during Passover. The overload of dry, flavourless matzah. But this is part of it, too – and the new people at the table get to come along for the ride.
It’s funny how the food traditions I always took for granted were new and intriguing to my husband in our early days together. Like I said, our version of roast beef (I’m thinking of my Grandma’s house… the tenderloin, served medium, next to buttery mashed potatoes and carrots served with buttered fresh rolls…excuse me, I’m drooling) was different than his family’s.
Ham is another example. While he didn’t grow up Kosher, a big glazed ham was not exactly typical holiday fare – in fact, he’d never tasted one before. Flash forward to today.. well, actually tomorrow morning, when he’ll head over to Sanigan’s Meat Locker in Kensington Market to pick up our bone-in smoked ham, and he’ll help me baste it with a bourbon-maple-marmelade glaze. It will serve as the centrepiece of the Easter dinner we’re having for my family.
Passover is all about freedom. And what could be a better representation of freedom than openly sharing tradition, and willingly trying new things – moving out of our comfort zone and delighting in new experiences, new tastes, new traditions.