Whether or not you celebrate the Festival of Lights, there’s no denying that a perfectly fried potato latke is a little piece of bliss. Interestingly enough, latkes came to the Hanukkah party fairly late. Here’s a brief history of the duo.
Hanukkah itself dates back to 168 B.C., when Syrian-Greek King Antiochus captured Jerusalem. The city’s loyal defenders, the Maccabees, finally succeeded in driving out Antiochus and his troops three years later. Afterwards, they assembled in the Temple in Jerusalem and lit a golden menorah to celebrate and give thanks. Though they only had enough oil for one day, the menorah stayed lit for eight days.
In commemoration of that miracle, Jewish believers began eating foods that were cooked in oil during Hanukkah. Exact recipes and ingredients varied greatly based on location: chicken fried in olive oil in Morocco, fried dough desserts in North Africa, bunuelos in Spain and in Italy, fried ricotta cheese pancakes.
As time went on, and the Christian holiday of Christmas exploded commercially, Hanukkah–before a relatively minor holiday–grew in the Jewish consciousness. In addition to an increase in gift-giving, Jewish homemakers in the 1950s crafted meals to accompany the celebration and immediately seized on the latke, an Ashkenzai cooking staple dating to the 1500s, as a focal point.
When the first at-home food processor was was introduced in the ’70s, the treat became much easier to make and latke’s place in Hanukkah lore was solidified. Today, families continue to enjoy the holiday staple year round and frequently add new ingredients into the mix.
Click here to review some of our favorite latke recipes.