A simple pancake made with potatoes, onion, and matzo meal fried in oil is the highlight of many Hanukkah celebrations and a symbol of a miracle from over 2,000 years ago. According to the Talmud, the book of Jewish law, when the Jews rededicated the Temple of Jerusalem after defeating a tyrant king, one day’s worth of oil provided light for eight nights.
Beginning at sunset of Dec. 22, the festival of Hanukkah brings Jewish families together to share the light of the menorah candles — and in an allusion to the miracle — traditional foods that are fried in oil. The best known of those crispy holiday delights are potato latkes, and one of the best places to find them is Larry Levine’s Kosher Meats and Deli in Peabody.
“It isn’t Hanukkah without potato latkes,” declared Rabbi Richard Perlman of Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody on a recent visit to the nearby Levine’s, where loyal customers swear by the deli’s savory potato pancakes.
“We always buy 12 dozen latkes for the holiday gathering at our religious school for students and parents,” said Perlman. “I can tell you, there are never any leftovers.”
Making latkes from scratch is a labor- and time-intensive job.
“Growing up, my father always made the latkes at Hanukkah. I can still picture him grating 10 pounds of potatoes by hand,” said Adele Lubarsky of Peabody, the daughter of a kosher butcher. “His recipe was a secret. When he passed away it went with him.”
Although she enjoys cooking, Lubarsky does not have the time make her own latkes.
“I went to Levine’s in Peabody and thought to myself I will give them a try. Oh, one taste and they brought back such memories,” recalled Lubarsky. “I’d swear my father left his recipe to Levine’s.”
“Our latkes are made from my bubbe’s [grandmother’s] recipe and it may have been her bubbe’s recipe,” said second-generation owner Todd Levine. “The recipe is simple, but the key is we make them in small batches.”
Perlman, a regular Levine’s customer, is not surprised the latkes taste so much like those Lubarsky’s father made over the years.
“The special ingredient is love,” he said pointing to a sign hanging in the store that states all the products in the family-owned kosher deli “are made with love.”
Hanukkah is a busy season for Levine’s.
“We will make at least 1,000 dozen latkes between Thanksgiving and Hanukkah,” said Levine. “Our latkes are very popular at Hanukkah events all over the North Shore and beyond.”
While no one doubts the authenticity of Levine’s latkes, the big debate at most Hanukkah gatherings is whether you eat them with sour cream or applesauce.
“Some people prefer sour cream, some like both, for me they are best with applesauce,” Perlman said with a broad smile he as dipped one of Levine’s fresh-from-the-frying-pan latkes into the sweetness, ate it, and pronounced it “just right, crispy and tender.”
Larry Levine’s Kosher Meats and Deli is located at 474 Lowell St., Peabody. For information on hours and foods available, call 978-535-6449 or visit levineskoshermkt.com.
Linda Greenstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.