Spring and spinach cleaning

Spring and spinach cleaning

AYLİN ÖNEY TAN - aylinoneytan@yahoo.com
Spring and spinach cleaning The wooden staircase is spotlessly clean and polished. It has been days of immense spring cleaning in the old timber mansion, now in a pristine state and devoid of any possible bread crumbs or wheaten products, just in time for Passover. The man comes home tired and heads for the second floor to have a short rest. The moment he sets foot on the first step, he finds himself heels up in the air, toppled by the glassy slippery surface. His back aching in pain, he angrily rushes into the kitchen, grabs the colander full of spinach leaves, all cleaned leaf by leaf to be kosher, and throws the spinach leaves onto the steps of the staircase, enraged by this Passover preparation business that has been going on for weeks now. The wife faints in shock. All her efforts to “paskual” the house for the coming “Pesah” (Passover) have been ruined.

This story is from the memoirs of Erol Haker, and is one of the hilarious happenings he recalls, often remembered as the “Spinach Incident No. 2” by the Adato family. The family was of Sephardic origin and settled in Kırklareli, a little town in Thrace, close to Edirne. They were among a group of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, who found a new homeland in the Ottoman Empire. For centuries they kept their traditions alive, but by the turn of the 20th century, the winds of change were around the corner. This spinach incident is one of the cases the Adato family experienced on its path of change to “modern” life and its slow detachment from the strict observance of religious rituals.  

This disastrous Passover must have occurred some time in the early 1920s. The previous spinach case was about 15 years earlier. The first spinach “accident” was more silent and did not include any casualties, but its consequences were to remain forever in the family. At another Passover preparation in the kitchen, the women of the Adato family were again cleaning spinach. That was a tedious task, as mounds of spinach were to be scrutinized by each leaf, to check for any possible creatures hidden in the curly veins of the spinach. The existence of a single worm, or “guzano” in the Ladino language, would ruin the kosher law of not mixing the milk and the meat, and the spinach and cheese bumuelos for the seder table would not be safe to eat. The mother Sultanuça was best at this spinach cleaning business but the new young bride, who was supposedly obliged to take over this task, did not feel like taking this “guzano hunt” so seriously. During the tiresome process the young bride Ester, with the help of her sister-in-laws, managed to keep the mother away from the kitchen and completed the spinach cleaning in their own way. Of course Sultanuça was aware of everything. At the table she coldly refuses to touch the dish, and warns her husband saying:

“Este espinaka no es para vos / This spinach is not worthy of your trust”.

However, the man, being so fond of Ester, does not take heed of the suggestion and eats the dish.

Needless to say, Ester never again cleaned spinach as her mother-in-law would. These two spinach cleaning incidents that occurred a century ago were tell-tales of a gradual change in the Jewish community of Kırklareli. Sadly, when I visited the town five years ago there was only a single young Jew still living in town, his parents having moved to Istanbul long ago.

Bite of the week

Recipe of the Week: This Sephardic “Bulemas de Espinaka” recipe contains the wheaten product yufka, so it won’t ideally fit to Passover table, but otherwise it is a delightful dish. This recipe is from the book of Deniz Alphan, herself being of Sephardic Kırklareli origin. Clean 750 g spinach, drain excess moisture by spinning in a salad spinner, and chop finely. Mix the spinach with 2 tablespoons olive oil and a mixture of 2 eggs, 150 g crumbled white cheese and 1 cup grated kaşar cheese. Lay 2 yufka sheets and cut into 8 wedges. Brush each wedge with olive oil and place a spoonful of spinach and cheese mixture along the edge of each wedge. Roll and twist into a spiral like a rose shape. Place each roll in an oiled baking tin. Brush with an egg and sprinkle with more grated kaşar cheese. Bake at 180ºC for about 40-45 minutes.

Fork of the Week: As spring is in the air, a good hearty breakfast along the Bosphorus is almost a classic spring ritual one must observe each season. Head for Sırçacı 14 at Yeniköy, Köybaşı Cad No:48, and enjoy their home-baked everything, home-made jams and eggs menemen, or high-protein omelette, or light omelettes.
Cork of the Week: No booze in spring cleaning! The detox drink, a refreshing and energizing mix of green apples, parsley, cucumbers, ginger and many other things is the right choice at Sırçacı 14. Their service of tea in fancy teapots is a delight to enjoy too.