When is a potato pancake not a potato pancake? When the simple, savory dish is a part of the Hanukkah celebration and becomes known as a latke, infused with great history and rich symbolism.
Regardless of your faith, learning more about others beliefs and history is a unifying experience and, in the case of latkes, delicious, too. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which begins this year at sundown Saturday, lasts for eight days to symbolize not only a miraculous event in Jewish history but also gave important agricultural insight regarding olive oil and the ingredients used for latkes
Around 165 BC the Syrian-Greek King Antiochus army rampaged through Jerusalem destroying or stealing all that they could. Many holy sites of the Jewish people were ruined and the great Temple in Jerusalem was adorned with idols that were serious infractions of Jewish Law. It took a short three years for the Maccabee warriors on the outer perimeters of Jerusalem, led by a priest, Mattathias, and his five sons, to finally liberate Jerusalem.
This story may appear to be an obscure connection to potato pancakes or latkes, and so far it is. The victorious Maccabees set about clearing their temple of all that did not belong and wished to light the gold menorah. Searching for olive oil for the lamp proved difficult and all that could be found was enough to keep the lamp burning for one day. Preparations were made to press olives for more oil but the process of extracting the oil took eight days. As the first day drew to a close the light was not extinguished but kept burning with oil that had not been there the previous day. The lamp burned for one more day, the following day the same amazing thing happened. At the end of the eighth day when it appeared that the oil may run out the people had newly pressed olive oil to begin refilling the menorah lamp.