New World Latkes

Our Thanksgivings will never be the same. I suspect this might be true for many American families who experienced the rare and fortuitous cooking collision of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving this year. What a feast! The Thanksgiving potluck we enjoyed included Latkes, the traditional Ashkenazi Jewish potato pancakes. While the turkey roasted, we savored hot fried Latkes smothered in sour cream and apple sauce.

Latkes strike me as the perfect Thanksgiving appetizer. You can eat them with your fingers, they’re delicious, and they symbolize a profound horticultural circle between the “New World” and the “Old World”. I find potato history fascinating, but in case you don’t share that peculiar passion, here’s the saga in brief.

Spanish explorers show up in South America and find everyone eating these weird starchy tubers. The Spaniards acquire a taste for spuds out of necessity and stock up on potatoes for their long return voyage. They introduce the folks back home to the lowly potato which gradually gains favor. The new tuber becomes a staple crop in Eastern Europe where the Ashkenazi Jewish people incorporate it into their recipes. Since frying potatoes transforms them into highly addictive substances, the confluence of Hanukkah — a holiday celebrated by frying foods — and potatoes was a match made in heaven! Latkes were born and eventually came to America with the Jewish people.

Of course, Jews aren’t the only folks who love potato pancakes but their version of the dish might be the most well-known in America, for good reason. The sweetness of the apple sauce, the sour of the cream, and the salty fried potatoes create a synergy of flavors that resonate, and make my taste buds deeply thankful.