What is Passover?


Denise PhillipsDenise is a professional chef and cookery writer, who trained with Prue Leith and contributes regularly to several publications on her favourite subject Jewish cooking. As part of her mission to improve Jewish cooking she has written several cookery books on the subject. 

For many Jews this time of the year is one of the busiest. Monday 14 April is the first night of Passover, the celebration of the Israelites’ Exodus out of Egypt from exile and slavery to freedom. In their hurry to leave they could not wait for their bread to rise. To remember this, for eight days we eat no regular bread but have Matzo, unleavened bread like crackers. We also give our homes, cars, offices and possessions a complete and thorough clean to ensure that they are clear of ‘chometz’ which means any form of leavened food such as bread, biscuits, cakes etc.  In fact we have to switch to buying completely new sets of most foods and processed goods such as jam, cheese and chocolate are certified Kosher for Passover to reassure us that they contain no ‘chometz’.

During the eight days Jews cannot eat these grains; wheat, oats, rye, barley and spelt-cooked or fermented in any way. So some foods such as pasta, breakfast cereals and drinks such as whiskey and beer are prohibited. Matzo, which is made from wheat, goes through a rigorous manufacturing process to ensure that it is made in just 18 minutes and remains unleavened. 

In addition to this, Ashkenazi Jews (originally from Eastern Europe) do not eat ‘Kitniyot’ during Passover. These include rice, corn, millet and legumes.  However if you are a Sephardi Jew (originally from the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East) ‘Kitniyot’ are permissible. 

Nevertheless many foods are acceptable and enjoyed at Passover. The availability of all kosher meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, spices, herbs, any fruit, any kind of vegetable (excluding those considered ‘kitniyot’-no peas, corn or beans) and many processed products imported from Israel and the USA guarantees some memorable, creative cooking.

On the first two nights of Passover we hold a Seder in our homes. This festive ritual involves the retelling of the Exodus from Egypt as if we were actually there, and includes many symbolic foods as well as a delicious communal meal. Large gatherings are the norm-it is a time for family and friends through the generations to come together. The joy of this puts all the planning, shopping, cleaning, and creativity into perspective as we share our freedom with each other. Happy Passover!

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See www.jewishcookery.com for Passover recipes.

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