Pesach: The farmer and the cowman should be friends

Pesach is coming, so it must be time to write about food. I have a new theory this year, based on our first farming venture: that eggs figure so prominently in the preparations for the seder, and appear on the seder plate (and show up too in that other holiday, where of all things a rabbit brings eggs) for one simple reason: This is the time of year when the hens come into laying. They say they need 14 hours of daylight, but apparently the hens count from alot ha-shachar (“when dawn comes up,” which was rabbinically defined to be when there’s enough light to tell the difference between blue and white — well before sunrise) to tset ha-kochavim (“when the stars come out,” specifically 3 small or medium stars). So right now, just past the Spring Equinox, when we know for a fact that there’s barely over 12 hours between sunrise and sunset, there’s enough light that the hens have started laying and we’re getting between 8 and a dozen eggs every day. It’s a bounty! It’s a wealth!19 eggs of many colors

And how convenient that hard-boiled eggs should be part of the Passover seder… that an egg should mysteriously appear on the seder plate (officially, roasted to represent the roasted lamb offering that used to be eaten on Pesach when the Temple still stood; but there’s already a roasted lamb shank on the seder plate to represent that. We all know it’s about fertility and Spring, just like those fecund bunnies that bring those other kind of brightly-colored eggs — note that ours, in all their glorious colors, are just as the various hens made them) … that angel-food cakes should be made with egg whites, and ditto ground-nut-and-egg-white maccaroons … It really seems like eggs are prominent because this is when eggs are, in the natural cycle of things in the Northern Hemisphere, just coming into production.

It’s about what’s really available at this season.  Like I learned as a young adult that the cold boiled potato that my mother always includes on the hors d’oeuvre plate that we nosh (nibble) on (after Karpas and before the meal) is most likely there because that’s what my Litvak (Lithuanian Jewish) forebears used for their “spring vegetable.” What else is there, probably, in March/April in northern Europe? Here we use parsley, some use celery. My mother did it because her mother did it, I think. But it turns out that the tradition goes back to our country of most recent origin (prior to the US).

And of course those lambs — Pesach clearly incorporates an earlier shepherd’s holiday, most likely a lamb sacrificed in appeasement or thanksgiving or for continued fertility. This is the season of the lambing and kidding. (I’m not kidding.) Which must be why we broke all the rules of good goat-buying today and bought three does, one of whom had dropped her kids this morning while we were on the way out to see them. So we have three stressed adults and two babies, who are of course adorable and may or may not make it. All in time for Pesach. Chad gadya indeed! Except that there are two, not one.

Of course, the whole matzah thing, and clearing the house of all leaven, happens at this season because of a probable underlying farmer’s holiday. Something about clearing out all the old to not contaminate the new, or — well, we haven’t raised grain, so I don’t know if there’s a practical purpose in clearing out the old in preparation for the spring harvest (barley? winter wheat?).   But getting rid of old fermented product before harvesting the new just seems sensible.  You wash the milk pail before milking into it.

Torah creates a new holiday out of those two old ones; “Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends.”  That’s amused me ever since I noticed that those are the two aspects of Pesach.

Well, we’re quickly making friends with the hayman. And probably the veterinarian. And also a wise doler-out of caprine advice, who was kind enough not to say what she must have been thinking, when I called and said we now had goats and might have a dam in trouble. She knows we didn’t have goats yesterday when we visited her.  But she promised not to say “I told you so.”

And we’re having how many people to Seder in 4 days?!

And we have a new cat, as of last weekend, and Eldest Son named her Matzah. She kind of looks like matzah, being a Siamese cross: cream colored shoulders and haunches with chocolate “points” — that is, crispy brown ears and paws and tail, just like the corners of matzah.