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Delighting in fried delicacies: The wonders of Hanukkah food

I have often been called Jewish by association. But being raised in a strict Catholic household, we observed Christmas.

By the time I was in junior high school, I had made a fair number of Jewish friends. I was blessed that they would invite me to their homes for their Hanukkah celebrations. This continues today.

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Hanukkah, which began Sunday, Dec. 6, commemorates the Jewish uprising against their Syrian oppressors during the Maccabean revolt. Oil is an especially important symbol for this holiday.

As the story goes, the Maccabees entered the Temple and found only enough oil to light their candelabra for one day. Instead, the flame burned for eight nights. They considered this to be a miracle, and commemorate it each Hanukkah by lighting a menorah each night for eight nights.

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I have always enjoyed spending the Jewish holidays with my Jewish friends because I get to learn about a different culture and its customs that are so different from the ones we observed in my own home.

One traditional Hanukkah food that is most closely associated with the holiday is potato latkes. Latkes are made with shredded potatoes and onions. Like most foods prepared during Hanukkah, latkes are cooked in hot oil. They are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, and are usually served with sour cream or applesauce.

I have had them with sour cream but much prefer applesauce on them. Actually, the homemade chunky cinnamon applesauce one of my friend's moms used to make when I was a teenager has always been my favorite.

One of the other traditional foods served at a Hanukkah party is sufganiyot — tasty jelly doughnuts. Once again to symbolize the miracle of the oil, these doughnuts are fried in hot oil. The doughnuts are made with a soft dough so the inside stays soft and tender. Oh, I do so love these amazing homemade doughnuts. I wish I could find them in a restaurant or deli around town, but I never have.

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Cheese blintzes are also a very popular Hanukkah food. A blintz is much like a crepe; these have a mixture of sweet cheeses in them and once again are fried in hot oil. They are frequently served either with powdered sugar or a fruit sauce. This is a family specific thing, I think. I have had them served with powdered sugar, but I have also had blintzes with jelly on them at different friends' homes. I prefer the ones with the jelly on them.

One of my other favorites is something called loukoumades, which are small puff pastries once again deep fried in hot oil and dipped in honey. They are a treat traditionally eaten by Sephardic Jews whose ancestors originated from the Mediterranean region. Think of a light, delicate doughnut hole, dipped into honey while still warm. Oh, what a treat.

I have tried to find the same kind of quality latkes, sufganiyot, blintzes, and loukoumades in our area delis but have never found anything to compare with the homemade ones my friends have made over the years. Sometimes cooking at home is the best.

Hanukkah is a fun and festive celebration, full of comfort foods and being with family.

I want to wish all our readers a very happy Hanukkah.

Terry Chaney is a Reisterstown resident and can be reached via email at

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