Ronnie Fein is the author of Hip Kosher. She has appeared in cooking segments on such shows as “Good Day New York.” She lives in Stamford, Connecticut.

Minimal matzo

A scarcity of matzo? C’mon!

By
April 23, 2008

In our family, we usually celebrate Passover with Seders on two nights, but this year we had only one. It was a good thing, too, at least in terms of the matzo. Because for the first time in all the years I have been having Seders and celebrating Passover, we ran out of matzo. And it’s only the third day out of Passover’s eight days.

We had 14 adults and seven children at the table for the Seder, and I had bought my usual five pounds of matzo. That’s usually enough for the whole holiday. Occasionally, depending on whether my adult children stay at my house for a few days, I have to buy another pound, but I didn’t think I would need to do that this year, because my son-in-law brought a pound box of shmura matzo (large, round, handmade crispy matzo that’s been made under strict supervision) that he had bought from a friend.

matzo
Matzo.

I had given a one-pound box of matzo (along with a bottle of borscht, a jar of gefilte fish, and some other items) as part of a Passover dinner package for a food drive our synagogue sponsored. That meant there were four pounds of the regular kind left.

A few pieces of matzo became the crust for some spinach pies I made to go with the main course at dinner, plus a dairy version to have during the week. Some pieces were broken up to use for the eggplant spread and chopped liver I served before the Seder.

I know some people buy Manischewitz Tam Tam matzo crackers for hors d’oeuvres, but my kids say that those don’t taste the same as real matzo, so I never buy them. Besides, lovers of Tam Tams already knew that none would be available. Apparently something went wrong with the oven at the Tam Tam plant.

OK, just over three boxes left.

Our Seder was festive, fun, and filling as usual, with everyone mock-complaining about the amount of food I served. “Too much!” they groaned as they consumed a couple of matzo balls and soup, then forked slices of turkey and lamb and piled on the chremslich (our family’s long-treasured honeyed matzo fritters), eggplant-and-tomato casserole, spinach pie, roasted plum tomatoes, carrot purée with dill, and roasted asparagus.

We ate the required matzo during the reading of the Haggadah and broke a piece for the afikomen. (I always hide the broken half under the same couch cushion, and am amazed that the children who hunt for it haven’t figured this out yet.)

Then came dinner and, even with all the food, somehow the matzo pile got smaller, and new boxes were opened.

I realize that seven children eat a lot of matzo as “quiet food” — what my mother-in-law once described as anything edible you give to kids to keep them busy when you have to pay attention to something else. And judging by the amount of matzo crumbs on the floors of several rooms the next day, more than a few pieces got crushed and went uneaten (though I think that my daughter’s dog had her fill).

Only half a box remained, plus most of the shmura matzo.

The next morning, my children wanted matzo brei for breakfast. There were the usual arguments about whether matzo brei should be thick, soft, and tender, the way my grandmother made it (and served with sour cream), or lumpy and crunchy, as my husband’s family eats it (served with apple sauce). We cater to all at our house, so everyone had it his or her own way.

Two pieces of matzo left. Just enough for a fragment for each of us to have with coffee, smeared with sweet butter and sprinkled with flakes of sea salt. We even ate most of the shmura matzo at breakfast.

With only two pieces of shmura matzo left, I went to our local Stop & Shop, which kindly offers a huge kosher and even huger Passover section, to buy some more. But the shelves were empty; there wasn’t a single box of matzo to be had.

There were still gefilte fish and chocolates and memorial candles and macaroons, but not one box of matzo. I asked a store clerk where the matzo were, assuming it was on some end cap that I had missed. But he told me they were all sold out.

Given the many Jewish families that live in the area, this was hard to believe. But he told me it was so. None left.

Was the store trying to make room for an early July 4 promo? Were they already getting ready for Halloween? I began to imagine that there was something in the matzo this year that made everyone eat more than usual, and others had returned to the store for more before I got there. Or did the overconsumption have something to do with the absence of Tam Tams?

I tried Food Emporium, but had no luck there either. So I decided to wait until today, when I will be in Manhattan and maybe my luck will be better. I can’t imagine the rest of Passover without more matzo. I only have one piece of shmura matzo left.

Before getting ready to leave for the city, I read the New York Times online. And guess what? There was a little story about the nationwide matzo shortage. It isn’t just a fact of life in Connecticut, where I live, but in New York, Florida, California, and everywhere else. No one knows why, and there were all sorts of guesses. But whatever the reason, the matzo situation is dire. Commenters on the article were recommending all sorts of ideas. Rationing. Even making homemade matzo.

Are they kidding? I do mostly homemade everything; I’ve stretched my own homemade strudel dough and bagels, stuffed my own ravioli and cooked homemade strawberry jam. But it would never occur to me to bake my own matzo.

Disheartened at the prospect of no matzo, I left for my day in the city. But I was too busy and had no time to look in any grocery. It looked to be a strange Passover.

When I got home, there was an unopened package of Manischewitz matzo on my kitchen counter. My husband had found it in the trunk of his car, which I had used for shopping; it must have fallen out of the bags and gotten overlooked.

So I’m going to have some soft matzo brei for breakfast tomorrow and bake another spinach pie for tomorrow’s dinner, to eat with a fresh salad. For all of you who have matzo left over — and even those who don’t celebrate Passover but just love spanakopita — there’s a recipe for spinach pie in my book, Hip Kosher.

To make a version for Passover, omit the phyllo layers. Soak 2 or 3 matzo in cold water until they are softened and place them over the filling. Brush the top with a beaten egg and bake. If you need a non-dairy version, leave out the cheeses and chopped onion. Sauté a large sliced onion and 10 to 12 ounces of sliced mushrooms until they are soft and golden brown, and substitute this for the cheese.

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