by Suellen Levy, Ralph′s eldest daughter
WALSENBURG- My father Ralph Levy, Jr., was the head chef in our kitchen during holiday, birthday and dinner parties. My mom did the weekly cooking, but cooking for special occasions was reserved for my dad. He had a flair for reproducing and tweaking family favorites, many learned from his German-Austrian grandparents Lillie and Alexander Levy, a prominent pioneer family in Walsenburg.
As a small boy Ralph observed how busy his grandmother “Amo” was during spring cleaning- especially how busy she was in the kitchen. A huge special order of a particular type of flat crackers from St. Louis would arrive at grandfather “Alec’s” mercantile store on Seventh Street; and then be carted by horse and wagon to the Levy home on Main Street, (where the monument in Heritage Park now stands.) These boxes of crackers were needed for use in recipes over the next several weeks.
These plain, but delicious baked sheets of unleavened flour (matzot) were smeared with butter in the morning for breakfast or dipped into freshly brewed coffee kept warm on the coal stove. They also became the main ingredient for a scrumptious chicken soup served often during this time of year.
Two generations later, regardless of the occasion, my dad would always offer this satisfying clear broth, with the floating dumplings called ‘klose,’ as a first course to special meals. And everyone wanted leftovers to take home for the next night’s light supper… oh and throw in a box of crackers too!
My dad always cooked with his apron on, a smile on his face and cleaned up as he went along. A rite of passage was being asked to come into the kitchen and help with the holiday cooking. That meant tie your hair back, wash your hands, choose your favorite apron and get ready to roll matzos!
To make this a true holiday ‘from scratch’ recipe, you should make fresh chicken stock, which takes four or five hours of slow gentle boiling. When cooking the stock, remember to skim the foam from the top, and keep the pot covered for the desired clear liquid. If you don’t have time for that, canned chicken broth may be substituted, and there is a much easier version of the matzo balls recipe on the matzo meal container that can be used.
Jewish products can be found in larger grocery stores in the foreign/ethnic food section. Matzo crackers come in many flavors and are produced by several kosher companies. This recipe calls for Manischewitz tea matzos, which are lightly salted and a little thinner than other varieties, but any brand will work. Make sure you use Passover matzos when the soup is made during this holiday.
Matzo Ball Soup
Makes about 90 small balls, or about 45 dumpling size balls, enough to serve 20 to 25.
1 1/2 boxes of matzo crackers- the unused portion is to be served later in the meal.
2 tsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped for balls
1/2 medium onion for flavoring broth
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, or 1/2 Tbsp. dried parsley flakes
2 Tbsp. margarine
1 16 oz container unsalted matzo meal
About 19 cups of homemade chicken stock, or five 14.5 fl. oz. or three 49.5 fl. oz. cans of chicken broth.
1. In a medium skillet saute the finely chopped onion in the margarine until translucent. Set aside to cool.
2. In a large square or oblong cake pan, place six or eight cracker sheets. Fill the pan with warm water and soak until soft.
3. Remove crackers and squeeze all the extra water from them and place in a bowl. Continue the soaking process until all crackers have been used.
4. In a small bowl, beat eggs lightly; add salt, pepper, nutmeg, and baking powder. Mix thoroughly. Then stir in the cooled onions and chopped parsley. Add to softened crackers and combine well.
5. To the “dough,” add small amounts of matzo meal until this mixture forms stiff peaks. Place in refrigerator for thirty minutes for matzo dough to become firm.
6. While the dough is chilling, fill two large pots with water, bring them to a boil over high heat, then add 1 Tbsp. salt to each.
7. Roll the dough into small one inch balls. It is easier if your hands are moistened with water or margarine. Continue rolling until all have been formed.
8. Cook the matzo balls in the boiling salted water for twenty minutes. They will float, so you can only cook enough at a time to fill the tops of your pots of water. In another large pot add the chicken stock, 4 1/2 cups of water, the small piece of onion and one Tbsp. of chopped parsley. Strain cooked balls from water and add to broth.
9. Add more uncooked matzo balls to boiling water until all have been cooked and added to the pot of broth.
10. Cover the pot and simmer matzo balls for about one hour in the broth.
Serve immediately, and enjoy the slurps and aahs!