The truth about Pesach is that most of us overdo the food.
I am sharing my thoughts on what we do to ourselves when preparing for Pesach.
Pesach is a time of sadness for the Jewish people, we were slaves in Egypt. Pesach is also a time of great joy. We became a free nation, leaving Egypt to travel to the Promised Land.
How much is too much?
I have been watching, reading and listening to all the adverts and Facebook posts, the Telegram and WhatsApp conversations and I am wondering if we haven’t become slaves to Pesach itself.
We are straining our wallets to buy products that we really don’t need and probably don’t actually use during the rest of the year.
We serve meals that are elaborate and overdone, when we don’t even do this on Shabbos. The worst part is that guests at our tables don’t even eat half of it or they eat it because we served it. After all the matzah and maror (lettuce) most of our family and guests are so full that they really are only eating out of politeness.
Is it really necessary for the meal to include 3 different fish starters, soup and most often Kneidlach, a meat and a chicken dish with the accompanying side dishes and salads and then a dessert before the afikomen?
By the time soup is served we have already eaten, at least 3 pieces of Matzah along with a lot of lettuce topped with charoset and a bowl of egg in salt water!
I couldn’t eat another bite
The poor hostess for second night then also has guests who are still probably full from having had a big lunch, chances are she is going to be stuck with plenty of left overs.
I belong to a lot of WhatsApp, Facebook , Telegram and Pesach groups. I have been reading and watching the posts and all I can think is, “what are we doing to ourselves? We are making ourselves insane.”
If you speak to women anywhere, a large majority will tell you that Pesach is just about their worst Chag. Most of it is not the cleaning and prep before, it is the cooking and the shopping and the expense. It’s trying to find that elusive new Pesach product and worrying about what to make.
The sad truth is that we have done it to ourselves. By the time the Seder comes round we are all too tired to enjoy it, to be excited for the plagues, to deal with the tired and hungry children.
Worrying about how much food there is, is there too little or too much and will it your guests enjoy it. The story of Pesach loses its significance. You have been on your feet cooking and preparing for this special meal. Can the Seder just be done so you can go to bed.
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Some of are lucky enough to be able to ask friends and family to bring, but that isn’t always the case. I look at people’s shopping carts and wonder is it worth spending an entire month’s grocery budget for just one week? How do you do it if you are on a tight budget?
The exchange rate is ridiculous and a lot of the products we are choosing to buy are imported so we are paying double and sometimes triple the normal price.
We are lucky here in South Africa that we have local companies, not just the kosher businesses but the big chains that are prepared to make kosher products for a minority demographic of their customer base.
We are privileged to be able to choose between local and overseas products for things like margarine, oil, mayonnaise, tomato sauce, etc. Definitely the local goods should get priority but cost must factor in, if the imported product is cheaper (unlikely but possible) then that’s what we should be buying.
Besides grape juice/ wine, which we can get locally and at a reasonable price, we don’t have a choice about our matzah and therefore we have to pay the exorbitant amount especially for the Shemurah matzah, but these are the most important part of Pesach.
The biscuits, cakes and chocolates that cost an absolute fortune are not a necessity for Pesach, so why do we buy so much of it? Ask yourself, ‘do you have those during the normal week, do you have cake and biscuits every day?’
A few years ago, the way I did the Yom Teivim changed not just Pesach but all of them and Shabbos too. It was costing too much we have a lot of guests for each meal.
Prep for Pesach
Two years ago I came across a group on WhatsApp, called ‘Prep for Pesach’ run by Lindy Fohrman, it is a group that doesn’t allow commenting. Lindy is the only one who posts on the group and she starts in January.
Weekly posts, with little things you can do so that the final cost of Pesach is spread over about 3 months instead of all at once.
One of the most important things that came from the suggestions was to keep a book from year to year, with numbers of people who service appliances or sell special products or cheaper products. I did this and also wrote into my book at the end of Pesach all the items that I am able keep for the next year. This meant that when I started shopping this year, I already knew what I had and haven’t landed up buying double!
Is it worth the cost to have all these Pesach food items that are so expensive, just for 7 days? Do you really need a small R70 cake? My ginger cake costs less than that to make and is made in a foil roaster, so it is enough to last 2 days of Yom Tov.
With young children I understand the need for Shabbos and Yom Tov treats. Why not just buy one slab of chocolate for each Yom Tov day and each person gets one or 2 pieces instead of the whole slab. Make some fancy Pesach biscuit and use that as treats instead.
Before even beginning Pesach shopping there are a few things that you need to ask yourself. How many people do I have coming for the Seder? Each person needs 3 pieces of Shemura matzah, then buy only that amount. Buy normal matzah for the rest of Pesach. One box of Matzah per day should be enough for a family of 4 and then 1 for just in case.
Over time I have worked out that you need on average one 750ml bottle of wine or grape juice per adult, plus one for Shabbos. Now you know how much to buy.
Meat is worked out at 200- 250g per person but that is when it is part of a normal meal and chicken is 1 breast or thigh per person, with all the Seder accoutrements you could go down to 175g per person and if you have decided you are serving meat and chicken then drop to 150g meat and 1 piece of chicken per person. I promise this is enough food!
Eggs are an item that needs to be bought in fairly large quantities. For the egg and salt water at the Seder, ½ an egg per person is enough. Having a meal plan will also tell you how many eggs you need for baking, breakfast and anything else you are making. I personally use around 100 eggs for Pesach as almost everything is homemade, so I need for mayonnaise, chopped herring, ginger cakes, matzah brei and breakfasts.
Do you need it or do you want it?
Do you really need cheese? For most of Pesach the meals are meat based, because there are usually plenty of left over foods from the Seder. Fish and tuna based dishes can be parev. Breakfasts don’t need to be R100 boxes of cereal. Eggs and matzah or even as some of my family enjoy (27 years into this marriage and it is still not something I will eat) Matzah meal porridge.
Matzah meal porridge is simply matzah meal with either warm milk or water as you would make any instant porridge and then they add honey, strawberry jam or sugar.
Recipe books abound with Pesach pancakes or waffles and other breakfast ideas.
The Seder plate is something else you need to make sure you have enough of. Instead of parsley we use boiled potato, so I have worked out that we need one potato for 6-8 people. The lettuce works out to 2 or 3 large pieces per person, this is about 1 pillow pack for 3 guests, if you buy too much you can use the left over either in a salad or I have made lettuce soup (my family still thinks it was a cucumber soup).
Chrain is something my husband and son make every year, we often make enough to use throughout the year and to give as gifts. If you are buying the bottles don’t buy more than two unless you have big chain eaters.
You don’t have to break the bank
From one of the many kosher food groups I belong to on various social media channels, I found that there are people who don’t break the bank for Pesach, because alongside what they serve as part of the actual Seder, their meal is very simple. There is one course and that is soup, fish or meat, not extra fancy desserts, no big 3 course meals.
I would like to thank all the Pesach groups and the local companies that have made Pesach easier for us here in South Africa.
To help everyone recover from the cost of Pesach I am hosting a meal planning and budgeting workshop on the 5th of May. You can book now https://qkt.io/Planning
I wish you all a Chag Kosher Le Pesach.