It’s Passover Time Down Under, Mate


Because Australia is situated below the equator, its seasons
rebel against the Jewish calendar. Our winter is their summer; our spring their
fall. Although Passover’s rituals and symbols resonate spring, the holiday is
celebrated in autumn Down Under.

“Passover begins just as the temperature drops, days grow
shorter, and grapevines lose their leaves,” said Jenni Neumann, a New Yorker
who grew up in Sydney. “It’s rather odd, if you’re not used to it, I guess.”

Yet, most of Neumann’s childhood memories of Passover would
be familiar to many American Jews: the apple and walnut charoset, matzah balls
floating in golden broth and jars of Manishewitz gefilte fish. Like many of her
American counterparts, Neumann, 38, grew up in an Ashkenazi world. While
Australian Jews call themselves Aussies, throw chicken on the barbie — or
barbecue — and speak English with the accent of Crocodile Dundee, their
Passover cuisine is straight from Molly Goldberg.

How did that happen, since Australia not only began as an
English colony, but still owes its allegiance and cultural heritage to Great
Britain?

While British Jews were present at the colony’s inception,
the demographics of Australia’s Jewish population has somersaulted several
times, as immigrants from various continents landed on its shores. After the
American Revolution, England needed another penal colony and selected Australia
as a dumping ground for undesirables.

In 1788, eight of the 751 convicts expelled on the first
fleet from London were Jews. If that’s not surprising enough, some of these
Jews were women. In subsequent decades, Jews continued to be sprinkled in
convict shipments, and others, down on their luck, left London voluntarily,
hoping for a better life in this hardscrabble country.

Defying the odds, many Jewish prisoners attained freedom
within several years. By 1817, Jews in Sydney had established a minyan and
burial society.

“When thinking of Jewish life back home, I picture Sydney’s
Great Synagogue,” said Neumann, describing this architectural jewel with its
four-story pointed towers and spectacular stained glass.

Built in 1879, the Great Synagogue is a quintessential
example of Victorian architecture, one of the most magnificent synagogues in
the world. During Australia’s first 150 years, English descendants dominated
the Jewish community and were fiercely loyal to the “mother country.” But the
19th century saw the arrival of German, Russian and Polish Jews.

A small Sephardi community bloomed and withered. As diverse
as these influences were, they were not strong enough to compete with the
established Jews who quickly Anglicized and absorbed newcomers. But this
situation changed radically during the 1930s when Jews from Central and Eastern
Europe headed in large numbers to Australia to escape the anti-Semitism fueled
by Hitler.

Anglo Jews could not contain this flood of Yiddish-speaking
immigrants who descended en masse and eventually overran them. Once World War
II ended, another band of European Jews took root, people freed from displaced
persons camps. Today, approximately half the Jews in Australia arrived in the
Holocaust’s wake, or are their descendants. For example, Neumann’s family
originated in Moravia (the southern part of the Czech Republic) and moved at
some stage to Vienna, where they became jewelers. Her grandparents and
great-grandparents fled the Nazis in 1938. Finding asylum in Australia, they
brought their Passover recipes and traditions with them.

“The thing I remember most about childhood seders are the
red eggs my mother used to make,” said Neumann, explaining that this was one of
the recipes her grandparents carried from Vienna. She describes how white
eggshells absorb brilliant pigment from steeping for hours with skins from
brown, or better yet, red Spanish onions.

Their red-brown color symbolizes the roasted egg on seder
plates. The pigment penetrates so deeply that egg whites turn a pale peachy
shade. Neumann’s mother, Barbara, starts stockpiling onion skins two months
before Passover.

“I save skins every time I use an onion in cooking and also
collect them from the green grocer’s onion display,” she said, explaining that
she prepares about five dozen eggs, enough to send home with Seder guests and
to last through the holiday’s eight days.

While charoset is a delightful treat, Neumann feels her
family recipe is the best. A generous amount of cinnamon and a splash of sherry
hint at palatschinken, the famed Viennese dessert crepe often filled with
walnuts.

Neumann has fond memories of spending Passovers with her
Uncle John and Aunt Shirley, whose father grew horseradish in his garden.
Contrary to bottled horseradish in America, where the infusion of red beet
juice indicates milder flavor than its white counterpart, in Australia mixing
beet juice with this bitter herb connotes that only the hottest horseradish was
used.

“As far as I’m concerned, the hotter the better,” said
Neumann, chuckling as she remembers challenging her Uncle John to see who could
take the strongest horseradish.

Shirley introduced a trendy honey mustard chicken and a
layered matzah cake, with decadent amounts of cocoa, whipped cream and dark
chocolate. She learned to make this outrageous dessert from an Israeli friend
in the catering business, and it immediately became everyone’s favorite.

“Shirley had to make two of these cakes to keep us happy,”
Neumann said.

With an eclectic array of recipes, Shirley credits Sephardi
friends with expanding her culinary horizons. Australia’s long-dormant Sephardi
community was revitalized in 1956, following the Suez Crisis. After some
political maneuvering, Egyptian Jews were allowed to enter its borders. By 1969
when Iraqi Jews were targeted for persecution, Australia opened its doors to
them.

Twenty years later, a stream of South African Jews arrived,
reinforced by refugees seeking opportunities after the former Soviet Union
disbanded. There’s a contingent of Israelis, too. Today more than 100,000 Jews
call Australia home; 80 percent of them live in Melbourne and Sydney. With more
than half of Jewish students attending Jewish schools, Australia boasts the
highest enrollment rate of any country except Israel. The Orthodox movement is
strong Down Under, but Reform — or what Aussies call Progressive — Jews make up
about 25 percent of the population.

Neumann waxes poetic about a leather bound haggadah she
received as a bat mitzvah gift. A copper plaque depicting ruins of the Second
Temple graces its front. “It’s beautiful and for years I proudly brought it to
Seders,” she said, explaining that the copper comes from mines in Israel dating
back to King Solomon. She inherited her appreciation of the past from her
parents who are antique dealers.

While shopping for their business, the Neumanns collect
Passover artifacts for their seder table, remnants of Australia’s rich Judaic
history, a legacy they have passed to their children.

Sherry Charoset

1 pound red apples (2-3) with skin on and seeds and core
removed

5 ounces walnuts, chopped

2 teaspoon cinnamon

1¼4 cup sweet sherry

1¼3 cup matzah meal

Liquid artificial sweetener to taste

1. Cut apples into chunks run through a food processor using
the coarse grating disk.

2. Place in a mixing bowl. Add walnuts and cinnamon. Combine
ingredients by hand.

3. Mix in sherry. Add meal to stiffen mixture. Add
sweetener, if needed. Charoset should be soft yet easy to serve

with a spoon. If necessary, adjust sherry and meal for
consistency and flavor. If making in larger quantities, retain the

apple-walnut-cinnamon ratio.

Yield: 8 servings

Red Eggs

Large pot that you don’t mind staining

Supermarket sized bag full of onion skins

2 dozen medium sized raw eggs

1¼2 pound fatty brisket

1. Place a thick layer of onion skins at bottom of pot,
followed by a layer of eggs. Continue layering, finishing with a layer of onion
skins.

2. Top with brisket.

3. Add enough cold water to cover the contents of pot (about
2 inches from the top).

4. Cover pot and place over medium heat to bring to a boil
slowly, which helps eggs from cracking. Keep eggs boiling steadily for 5-6
hours, adjusting heat between medium and low.

5. Check on eggs every 20 minutes, adding more water if
necessary. Gently move eggs around, using a wooden or plastic spoon. Make sure
eggs are covered all the time.

6. Turn off flame and cool down to warm. Wearing plastic
gloves to protect hands from staining, carefully remove eggs to a strainer to
dry. Store in original egg containers in refrigerator. They will keep right
through the holiday. To serve, break shells and sprinkle with a little salt or
salt water.

Chicken in Honey-Mustard Marinade

2 tablespoon margarine

1¼2 cup honey

1¼4 cup artificial kosher-for-Passover Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 teaspoon salt

8 chicken drumsticks

No-stick spray

1. In a saucepan, stir first five ingredients over a low
flame until thoroughly blended, about 5 minutes. Cool.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a shallow, oven-proof baking
pan with spray. Arrange drumsticks in a single layer. Pour marinade over drumsticks.

3. Place pan in center of oven, turning drumsticks every 10
minutes. Lower temperature if sauce thickens quickly as it may burn. Roast 40
minutes, or until drumsticks brown and juices run clear when pierced with a
fork.

Cocoa Cream Layer Cake

1¼2 pt. of nondairy whip topping (or heavy cream, for dairy
version)

1 tablespoon sugar

1 1¼2 teaspoon baking cocoa

3 matzahs

6 teaspoons sweet sherry (or a bit more, if needed)

1. In a large bowl, whip nondairy whip topping, sugar and
cocoa until stiff peaks form. (If using cream, do not overbeat or you’ll get
chocolate butter.)

2. Spread matzahs on 3 plates. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons sherry
over each matzah. Make sure entire surface is moistened, but don’t wet
completely or they’ll become mushy.

3. On a serving plate, place one matzah and completely cover
with half of whipped cream mixture. Don’t leave any area bare or it will dry
out. Place a second matzah on top and repeat.

4. Place third matzah on top and cover with chocolate
topping (recipe below).

Chocolate Topping

3 one-ounce squares of semisweet chocolate

2 pareve margarine (or sweet butter, for dairy version)

1 tablespoon milk nondairy creamer (or milk, for dairy
version)

In a double boiler, melt and blend topping ingredients.
Spread on top of third matzah. Place toothpicks into softened spots near the
top matzah’s four corners. Cover completely with aluminum foil. Refrigerate for
two days before serving.

Yield: 9 servings  

+