Various explanations are offered as to why Jews consume dairy products on Shavuot. Some scholars cite the scriptural passage from Exodus 3:8 referring to “a land filled with milk and honey” as a symbolic rationale for the practice. Other commentators claim that because cheese was produced during the spring season, which is when Shavuot occurs, it is a natural fit to feast on dairy during that particular period.
Specific sources aside, in the coming weeks, many local Jews will return to
the ritual of ingesting various milchig makings. Perhaps most notable among the dairy delectables is blintzes.
“Everyone likes blintzes, and they are great for entertaining,” said Hodaya Danino.
The Pittsburgh resident plans on using a gluten-free berry and cream recipe this year. “I like that they are so versatile; you can make them savory or sweet,” she added. Although blintzes can be made either way, “most people expect blintzes to be sweet,” noted Elky Langer, a Squirrel Hill inhabitant who relies upon a recipe that was delivered from her grandmother to her mother and then to her.
“Before that, we don’t know how many generations it was passed down,” said Langer.
Langer’s grandmother, who grew up in Jerusalem, used to make both spicy blintzes and sweet blintzes. However, these days, given people’s preferential palates, Langer has reserved the sweetness for blintzes and the saltiness for a savory lasagna, she said.
For some, making blintzes requires a cookbook or following a written method. Not so for Malka Markovic.
“I make them without a recipe. I know how to make them already,” said the nonagenarian.
Such assuredness may stem from the fact that Markovic has been making blintzes for “the last 70 years.”
The culinary creations, which are always made from scratch, typically come in the form of jelly or cheese.
“People make with mashed potatoes. I never made it like that because my kids don’t like that,” she explained.
In Markovic’s case, the enterprise begins with preparing the dough, a step that requires no instruction.
“I know how to make the dough so I don’t need a recipe,” she said.
From there, she ascertains the consistency. “If it’s loose, I put a little flour; if it’s too thick, I put a little milk or water.”
A similarly scrupulous determination is made regarding the filling.
“If it’s sweet or not sweet, I add more cheese or less cheese,” she said.
As for which type of cheese to choose, Langer said it makes all the difference. “Cottage cheese is very liquid-y,” she said.
Consequently, Langer uses farmer’s cheese, “which is better than cottage cheese because it’s less runny and healthier,” she added.
Apart from one pound of farmer’s cheese, she also adds an egg, a half cup of sugar and one teaspoon of vanilla to make a filling, which is “not overly sweet, and it stays firm.”
To make a blintz souffle, Adele Sufrin of Pittsburgh uses 12 frozen blintzes, a half stick of butter, four eggs, one teaspoon of vanilla, a quarter cup of sugar, two tablespoons of orange juice and 12 ounces of sour cream.
The dish, which is served with cherry pie filling on the side and has been made “tons of times,” requires 45 to 60 minutes of baking at 350 degrees.
Markovic elects to use that virtual hour of bake time differently.
“When I make them, I make 60 pieces in an hour because I work with three frying pans,” she said. “I used to use four; now, I’ve cut down and use three.”
As for why the diminution of materials, “I can’t stand on my feet too long,” she explained.
It was a realization the 93-year-old reached about five years ago.
Dee Selectman recalls making blintzes from decades ago.
“I was an active member in Hadassah for years, going back 40 years ago, and Hadassah used to have a booth at the Three Rivers Art Festival.”
Between two synagogue kitchens and a score of volunteers, the group would make “tens of thousands of blintzes” for sale at the festival.
“On Shabbos, we would have a group come in and take over the booth,” she said. And even though they stopped for Saturdays, “six days a week it was Hadassah members.” As sweet of a memory as it is, don’t expect Selectman to be trying her hand at blintzes again.
“That’s one thing I won’t make,” she said. “My family would eat other things for Shavuot that was dairy.”
Adam Reinters can be reached at email@example.com.