April of agru.etsy.com has done it again with another great blog post, Thanks April!!!
The prohibition against Chametz during the eight day holiday of Passover is non-negotiable. We are forbidden from eating, or even possessing, any chametz from midday of the day before Passover until the conclusion of the holiday.
What is chametz? Literally, it means “leavened grain”, but has expanded (at least among Ashkenazi Jews) to include anything that might even be confused with it. This includes any uncertified food or drink that has the smallest amount of wheat, rye, oats, and spelt. It can also include corn (even corn syrup), rice, peanuts, and beans. This last group is referred to as kitnyot (little things).
When observing Passover, it's important to buy only foods that have been certified as “kosher for Passover” by one of many rabbinical organizations. Usually supermarkets in areas with a Jewish population have a special section set aside for this purpose. But always check the labels, since things can be misplaced or incorrectly shelved. Passover foodstuffs are always marked as such. Coca-Cola even makes a special “Passover blend”, using cane sugar instead of corn syrup for Passover use.
When I speak of “uncertified” food – it's obvious that we DO eat wheat during Passover. Matzah, “the bread of affliction” is made of wheat and we are required to eat a certain amount of matzah during the Seder and over the course of the rest of the week. However, any grain we cook with must not be allowed to rise, or leaven. That means it must be completed, from the first drop of water hitting the flour until we take it out of the oven, within 18 minutes. In case you ever wondered why there are little holes in the matzah, this is why. The holes allow it to completely bake within this time frame. They also help keep the matzah from puffing up or warping too much during baking.
In addition to the prohibition against eating or owning chametz/kitnyot during Passover, we are also prohibited from benefitting from it. This means we may not even feed it to our animals. It also means our chametz, kitnyot, and all the utensils and dishes we used before Passover must be disposed of. Often this is done by signing a document “selling” it to a non-Jew (usually in name only, though it's traditional to dispose of all perishable food not allowed over the holiday).
The cornerstone of our Passover bread consists of the previously mentioned matzah – a flat bread, simply made of flour and water, and cooked very quickly. It's what we believe the Jews ate during their flight from Egypt, when they had to leave so quickly their usual bread had no time to rise before baking. Other products used during the holiday are derived from this base: matzah cake meal (flour) for baking, matzah meal for breading, matzah farfel instead of croutons on salad or noodles in soup, Tam Tams (small matzah crackers), and full sized matzah squares.
Often, for the Seder, a special matzah, called Shmurah Matzah, is bought and served. Shmurah means “watched”, meaning the ingredients of this form of matzah are supervised from the moment the wheat is harvested until the matzah is packaged for sale.
The wheat for Shmurah Matzah is harvested on a clear, dry day, to prevent any moisture from coming in contact with its flour at any point. From that point on, it is continually supervised every step of the way, continuing to keep the wheat dry up until the moment water is added for the making of the actual matzah.
The water for this matzah is supervised as well, making sure it has no contact with any other flour or grain products. It's drawn the night before it's to be used and kept separate from everything else until the following day.
While the matzah is being baked, the involved bakery employees supposedly pray continuously, saying “l'shem matzot mitzvah” (we are doing this for the good deed of matzah).
Unlike more commercial matzah, Shmurah Matzah are kneaded by hand and round, probably very similar to the unleavened bread the Jews used when they left Egypt.
Some people also use egg matzah or matzah made with fruit juice. In the strictest sense, these are not permitted for healthy adults during Passover, since it's believed juice leavens flour faster than plain water would.
There are many commercial brands of matzah, as well as options for different flavors, such as poppyseed or onion-flavored. For people with gluten sensitivities, matzah is available made with oats or spelt. There's also whole wheat matzah.
In the coming weeks, leading up to the holiday, we'll be offering recipes that fall within the limitations of Passover. There will even be recipes for baked goods, so be sure to stop back here for them!