Tonight the Obama family is hosting a Seder, a ritual meal celebrating the Jewish holiday of Passover. Many Americans are unfamiliar with the customs of this dinner, such as the compulsory obligations to tell the Exodus story and drink four glasses of wine (oh, the sacrifices …).
One seasonal mystery that puzzles Gentiles is the miraculous appearance of canned Kosher cookies in American supermarkets. Actually, Jews are puzzled by this as well, since the cookies are macaroons made with coconut, chocolate, and other ingredients which do not figure prominently in Old Testament texts.
The origin of the Passover macaroon is shrouded in mystery. Some believe these dense sweets represent desserts hastily assembled by the ancient Israelites, who fled Egyptian bondage by a route devoid of donut shops.
Others maintain that, in the late nineteenth century, secretive rabbinical scholars investigating caves near the Dead Sea uncovered a huge cache of ancient metal cannisters containing sweet, rock-hard, unleavened biscuits. Each spring these prospectors slapped “Kosher for Passover” labels on the cans and exported them as seasonal foodstuffs to a growing community of coreligionists in the Eastern United States, and a tradition was born.
To avoid legal and ethical objections, the origin of these cookies was disguised. Consumers were told that the leathery pastries were baked by Jewish Scotsmen (“MacAroons”) or exiles (“maroons”), or that the cookies were imported from Cameroon or Morocco (in French, le Maroc).
There are other competing theories, and the Passover meal requires that all must be discussed and debated, especially if there is still some wine left. Christianity, which adopted many ancient Pascal customs, developed a sweet, sticky symbol analogous to macaroons and equally indigestible: Peeps.
Image (Moses and the Macaroons, after Rembrandt van Rijn) by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com
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