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The First Crembo of Winter


Can you imagine an Israel with no chocolate chips, pizza or potato chips? It wasn't all that long ago. My family moved to Israel when I was 17. Our first home in Israel was with Doda Rivka in her three-room apartment in Geula, a very religious quarter of Jerusalem.

Our apartment was situated at the top of a flight of stone stairs above Mordecai's kiosk. I used to watch yeshiva boys in their black hats and coats as they took a break from their Gemaras. They would come to Mordecai's for a cup of soda-water from the tap. It was always served in a Duralex glass, sometimes with a little red colored syrup that was called petel. (It took us a while to realize that only the red syrup was called petel.) I used to wonder if they all drank from the same glass. Sometimes they'd order a big salty pretzel to go with it. There was a big black telephone inside with a silver dial and a sign on top: "50 agorot to make a phone call", written on a torn piece of cardboard.

Mordecai also had an assortment of cakes behind his glass window. One was colored a bright red as if it had been dyed with borscht. Another was a dry-looking square of chocolate cake that looked like it had been in the window since last year. I couldn't tell if it had a sprinkling of coconut or dust on top.

I longed for a Ringding*, a Three Musketeers bar, or an ice cream sandwich, but it was not to be. Winter was setting in, and in those long ago days, ice cream was practically illegal in Israel during the winter.

Of course I didn't know this. One blustery day when my sweet tooth was demanding attention, I innocently approached the counter of the darkened kiosk to order an ice pop.

"What's the matter with you?" Mordecai roared, his red face getting redder. "Do you want to catch pneumonia? That's what happens if you eat ice cream in winter... crazy Americans..."

Then one day, Mordecai got in something new, wrapped in gold foil. The kids used to stand in line on their way home from heder to buy it, with their red and black school bags hanging from their backs. I waited in line too. What was it? It couldn't be ice cream.

So what was this stuff the kids were eating? It was covered in chocolate. Good start. And it seemed to be filled with whipped cream. My mouth started to water. I stepped up to the counter. "One of those, please. What do you call them?"

"This is 'winter ice cream'," Mordecai said, handing the fragile thing to me. I made the bracha (blessing), thinking of chocolate cupcakes and brownies. Then I bit into my first and last Crembo. Shaving cream covered with a melted brown crayon. I didn't touch another for 20 years.

When I became a mother, some of my kids loved Crembos, but one didn't. I remember him handing me the Crembo he had received at a Hannukkah party. I tasted it. Delicious. Were Crembos an acquired taste?

I once heard my children arguing over what bracha to make on a Crembo. For those of you who are wondering, our rabbi, a father of ten, deemed that if you bite into the chocolate first, you make a shehakol. And if you eat the biscuit at the bottom first, you make a mezonot.

All these years later, as a grandmother, I can't buy them fast enough, once they hit the shelves. We keep them in the freezer, they taste better that way. And if you buy the package of eight, they are no longer wrapped individually in aluminum foil – so much better for the environment. A dietician once told me that one Crembo has less than 100 calories.

If you are more of a do-it-yourselfer, there are a few recipes on the Internet for making your own Crembos at home. Either way, enjoy this Israeli delicacy in good health. May we have a winter blessed with lots of rain and Crembos.

* Ringding was a chocolate cake filled with whipped cream and covered with chocolate. It was made by Drake's and was one of the few kosher snacks available in those days.

Susie Aziz Pam is the author of Galilee Gold, a novel. 

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Tuesday, 16 April 2024

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