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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Latkes Made with Love

Years ago, when my children were little and I was married to their father, a Jewish man, we always had latkes at Hanukah. They were good if you got one straight out of the frying pan; but warmed in the oven, they were greasy and not crisp. For some reason unknown to me, we served egg salad and tuna salad with them, and a friend I’d gone to graduate school with always brought his family, including his father-in-law who kept a roll of one-dollar bills in his pocket and peeled them off for the speechless children. The men always cooked the latkes--a distinct departure from traditions. But those were good times.

When I saw a picture Janie Emaus’ family’s latkes on Facebook and saw how crisp they are, I knew I had to ask her how they do it. Here’s her description of the process, some specific hints for making latkes, and the love that goes into this tradition. And note--the women do the cooking.
I love family traditions. And none holds a more special place in my heart than the day the women in our family gather together to make potato latkes for our Hanukah dinner. In fact, this day of cooking is often more fun than the dinner itself. The best part being we get to eat the latkes hot off the skillet. Not that they aren’t tasty the night of our celebration, after being heated up in the oven, but there is nothing like a hot, crispy latke to warm your soul.

For those of who you don’t know, Hanukah is known as the celebration of lights.  Upon the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish people found enough oil to burn for only one day.  Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days. Thus, along with lighting the Menorah for eight nights, we eat foods fried in oil.
Janie's mom and daughter
Making latkes is serious business

I find it a miracle that four generations of women in my family were together in one kitchen. As the matriarch of the family, my eighty-seven-year old mom set the tone. It was no-nonsense with her.  Get started.  Keep focused.  Get it done. As her daughter, I obliged and began peeling potatoes.

When my daughter arrived, the tone shifted slightly. To say that she is a clone of my mother would be an understatement. She definitely inherited the “control” gene. It appeared that my frying skills weren’t up to par, and thus my granddaughter and I were  relegated to lining the trays with paper towels,  emptying the trash and washing the bowls.

But it worked.

And five hours later – hours filled with peeling, chopping and frying, along with discussions about life, marriage, sex, men, and more sex (with women in the kitchen, what do you expect?) we had over ten dozen delicious latkes.

It doesn’t get any better than that. Unless, of course, there is a cleaning crew to come in to wash the stove, counter tops and floor.  Because there will be grease everywhere. But nothing that can’t be tackled after a well shaken martini.  

Here is our family recipe along with some essential tips:

4 potatoes
1 onion
2 eggs
Salt and pepper – to taste
Flour – for thickening the mixture
Vegetable oil
This will yield approximately 25 latkes

Tip #1 – Prepare and fry one batch at a time.  It is easier to fry them this way and the mixture won’t sit in the bowl for too long. Cut the potatoes and onions into even pieces.  Place potatoes into ice water until ready to use them.  Place into food processor and chop.

Tip #2 – Do not grind too finely. Pour mixture into a bowl.  Add eggs, salt and pepper.  Thicken with flour. Heat about ¼ inch oil in frying pan.

Tip #3- A cast iron pan works best. Spoon mixture into oil.  Fry until golden brown.  Flip over.  When done, place on cookie sheet lined with paper towels.

Tip #4 – It takes about 2-3 batches to get it exactly right and get the “latke” feel. Add flour to mixture as needed while frying.

Tip #5 – Have fun!

Serve with applesauce or sour cream.

Happy Hanukah to all who celebrate.

Janie Emaus is blogger and a novelist. Her current release is a young adult novel, MERCURY IN RETRO LOVE.  She blogs for the Huffington Post at   Since 2009, she has been regular columnist at, Her blog for baby boomers, takes a humorous look at life NOW as compared to THEN.

She is currently at work on a new novel and can be found at












  1. Judy,
    Thanks for letting me share our recipe with the world.

  2. I can't remember for sure, but I think my mother thickened with matzoh meal rather than flour. And if this doesn't sound weird, I ate mine dusted with sugar. I've never made them because of the time it took to grate the potatoes, but now I want them. Your post brings back memories.

    1. My grandmother would grate them by hand. But now with the food processor, it makes it so much quicker and easier.

  3. Memories for me too, Polly, and a definite longing for latkes though I must say I can't imagine them with sugar. One of my sons says his girls make them often, not just seasonal--I'm inviting myself over.

  4. I had European friends who couldn't imagine how Americans ate pancakes with syrup with bacon or ham. The salt and sweet together seemed disgusting to them. Try one bite with sugar. Just one bite. :-)

  5. Yep! I had British houseguests who were appalled that I served "sweet with sour"--toast and jam with bacon and eggs or brown sugar with oatmeal.

  6. Janie, I'd be afraid the processor would turn the potatoes to mush. We always grated by hand. Do you have a slicing/grating attachment?

    1. Yes. And you don't want to make them too fine.

  7. Thanks for sharing your memories and your recipe. I favor matzo meal rather than flour, too--I think it makes the latkes lighter--and I always grate by hand. I also think it's important to rinse the grated potatoes and then squeeze out as much water as possible, to get rid of excess starch.

    1. There is a lot of water, so we keep adding flour.
      I just can't imagine grating by hand.

  8. Yummy! I love them...and I do remember my Grandma Minnie making them! But how do you keep the house from smelling so onion-y?

    1. It's not so much the oniony smell, as keeping the smoke alarm from going off! Which it did!
      Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Funny, Hank. I remember the house smelling more of grease than onion!Maybe Janie has the answer. Or maybe it's do what she does and cook several days ahead.

  10. They sound yummy. I haven't had them in years, but I loved them when friends fixed them. The sour cream and applesauce were perfect complements. I'll have to try making them myself. Thanks, Judy and Janie.

    1. Ellis - Invite some friends over and make a party of it. That makes it so much more fun.

  11. You're welcome, Ellis. Hoe yours come out as yummy as Janie's look.