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Grampa Yakov's Yom Kippur Meatballs
reprinted from WOID. A journal of visual language
My great-grandfather Yakov was one among the Jewish anarchists on New York's Lower East Side. Times were hard and the bosses mean, but there was revolutionary faith, and solidarity, and joy, as when everyone gathered to celebrate at the Yom Kippur Ball.
I’ bestimm’, wer is a Jud! “I decide who's a Jew!” Words of Karl Lueger, the anti-Semitic mayor of Vienna; they could have been the words of any number of rabbis, or for that matter the Israeli immigration services. An anarchist (at any rate a Jewish anarchist) would have answered that since nobody had asked him his advice before making him a Jew it was high time he decide for himself what being Jewish meant on this, the designated day; and if this meant not being the kind of Jew who could afford to take time off to fast and pay and pray for his sins, so be it. They still call Jews like Yakov apikorsim, “Epicurians,” an expression used two thousand-and-some years ago to designate the Jewish followers of the Greek philosopher Epicure: those who believe, as Epicure did, that mankind in general, and Jews in particular, must be freed from the fear of gods, and of God in particular. Most likely the term was revived in the seventeenth century to designate enlightened Jews who, like most early modern thinkers, were conversant with Lucretius, the Roman follower of Epicure. Karl Marx, who was descended from a long line of rabbis, wrote his doctoral dissertation on Epicure.
Of course, an Epicurian's also someone who enjoys the good things in life. The following recipe honors all of these ancient meanings; it would take a Talmudic scholar to figure out how many laws it breaks, but the most important one's the law that says you're not supposed to enjoy this life. By all accounts, Great-Grampa Yakov was a happy man.
YAKOV'S YOM KIPPUR MEATBALLS
3 or 4 oz. bacon, by weight.
1/4 cup carrots, peeled and diced.
1/4 cup celery, diced.
1 small onion, diced.
1 clove garlic, chopped.
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped.
1 large mushroom, diced.
(None of these need be chopped too fine).
clam juice from clams (see below).
1 jigger white wine.
1/2 cup breadcrumbs.
1/2 lb. ground hot pork sausage without its casing.
1/2 lb. minced clams.
1 quart beef broth.
1 cup sour cream or yogurt.
1 tablespoon caviar, stolen.
In a cast-iron pan or skillet, render the bacon at medium heat. Toss in the carrots and glaze; add onions and celery, and glaze the onions; add mushrooms and lower heat. Add clam juice and wine, and cook at low heat until almost all of the liquid is gone. Stir in as much of the breadcrumbs as is needed to absorb the juice. (The mixture should lift from the bottom of the pan.) Let cool.
Lightly mash the caviar; mix with the sour cream or yoghurt; put aside to chill.
In a blender or cuisinart add the egg, the ground pork and the clams. Blend at high speed. Add the mixture from the pan and blend. Add the rest of the breadcrumbs and blend again, until the mix is sufficiently dry. (It should be the consistency of bread dough and barely stick to the hand.)
Lay out three large plates and a bowl of water. Dip your hand in water and grab a generous fistful of the mixture, enough to roll a meatball about one-and-a-half inches across. Lay the meatballs on the plates so that they don't touch. This should make 12 to 16 meatballs. Leave for 20 minutes.
Bring the beef broth to a boil. Gently drop the meatballs into the broth, one by one. Boil gently for 20 minutes, occasionally flipping the meatballs so that the bottom faces up.
Serve in soup bowls, with dollops of yogurt or sour cream. Naturally, the meal should be shared the evening before Yom Kippur services in order to open the ceremonies attendant on the Day of Atonement.
May you be signed up for a revolutionary year!
September 9, 2023
[First published 9/9/2011.]