Could be a Seinfeld
Our writer reflects on matzo brunches with her family
When it comes to brunch, the Jews fare pretty well. We might lag a little bit in holiday cuisines (can anyone say gefilte fish?), but give us a weekend mid-morning, and we’ll give you bagels piled high with cream cheese and lox, potato pancakes, and soft, creamy blintzes.
One of our slightly lesser known brunch items is matzo brei (rhymes with rye). Matzo brei is wet, crumbled-up matzo (the unleavened bread Jews eat during Passover) fried with eggs. I never liked it, but everyone else in my family would go crazy for it. Since we don’t follow Passover rules, our ritual was making matzo brei during the holiday visit to grandma and grandpa in Florida.
During one family visit, there was semi-serious talk about opening a matzo brei business (along with a vigorous debate over whether the business would feature matzo brei or matzo pie—not a real thing, but what we called it when the matzo was all caked together instead of broken up). I can still picture my uncles getting animated across the dining room table over the pie versus brei question, while my grandmother smiled over the matzo she scrambled on the stove, happy the mishpachah (theYiddish word we use for blood relatives) was together. There’s this big family joke that certain moments with us “could be a Seinfeld.” While I imagine most families identify with traits they see in a TV family, we felt truly connected with the Seinfelds. (My grandparents lived in the neighborhood that was the inspiration for the seniors-only community Jerry’s TV parents lived in, Del Boca Vista. Jerry’s real mom was actually my grandparents’ neighbor in real life and my mom still calls the neighborhood “Boca Vista”). In this case, matzo brei versus matzo pie definitely qualified as a Seinfeld.
My grandmother passed away two years ago, in May, and my grandfather followed almost exactly one year later. I can’t remember the last time we had matzo brei. During the last few years she was alive, my grandmother was too sick to cook. Chemotherapy and doctor’s visits took precedence over family tradition. Now that they are both gone, I wonder if the matzo brei brunch will live on, or if it has gone the way of some of their other tradi- tions, like speaking Yiddish or dancing to Sinatra.
My parents recently returned to clean out the house in “Boca Vista” before the new owners moved in, and my mom shared the mementos she had brought back to Rochester. She was especially excited to find the first cookbook my grandmother used after marrying my grandfather.We flipped through the yellowed pages, laughing at some of the outdated directions, and it took us a minute to find the matzo brei recipe. It was listed under Passover Cookery as “eggs scrambled with matzo.” “Ew, goose fat,” I say. “Oh, I’d never use sugar. And I like it crispier,” my mom says.
There may be some substitutions, but for now, the tradition seems pretty safe with us.