A TALE OF A LOST, FOUND, FAILED RECIPE
Once upon a time – a long time ago – when I was young, one of my favorite Passover treats was carrot candy, not to be confused with candied carrots. It was basically carrots, sugar, and ginger, boiled and then cooled until it solidified and could be cut into small triangles. I loved it. So, as a young adult, with my first apartment and eager to cook, I asked my father’s mother for the recipe.
My memory of her directions is: “It’s easy. You peel and grate [by hand, of course] ten pounds of carrots. Put the shredded carrots into a sauce pan with five pounds of sugar and constantly stir over a low heat for two hours.” It was then that I realized Grandma Gert and I had very different definitions of “it’s easy.”
After my grandmother died in 1988, I was sorry I hadn’t written down the recipe, just to have it. My mother had inherited her mother-in-law’s recipe box, but I’m not sure I ever asked her to look for it. It’s possible I did ask her and she couldn’t find it. It was one of those recipes my grandmother didn’t have to look up. (My mother took possession of the recipe box because her sister-in-law, my Aunt Joan, used her refrigerator only to store batteries, nail polish, film, and yogurt; I can’t recall every seeing her cook, but have a lot of memories of going to restaurants with her.) I then began a lengthy and futile online search for the recipe. All I could find, however, were directions for making candied carrots, a totally different recipe.
Then, one day a few years ago, I came across an article in the Jewish Forward by a food writer from South Africa about favorite Lithuanian Jewish recipes. Grandma Ida, my great grandmother, who had taught her American-born and very assimilated daughters how to cook, had come to the US from Kupishok, Kovno, Lithuania, at age 18 in 1896. And, according to family oral history, she had quite a few half-siblings who settled in South Africa instead of the US.
One of the recipes sounded just like what I remembered of my grandmother’s instructions, but with “only” six cups of grated carrots, three-and-a-half cups of sugar, and one hour of frequent stirring. (See recipe at the end of this story.)
The biggest difference was the name. It wasn’t carrot candy, but ingberlach. “Of course,” I thought, “makes sense. After all, ‘ingber’ is Yiddish for ‘ginger,’ from the German ‘ingwer.’”
More frustrating is when I mentioned the name to my father and he said, “Sure. Ingberlach. Grandma made it all the time.” It would have saved me hours of searching if I’d thought to ask him instead of my mother. It never crossed my mind that both Grandma Ida and Grandma Gert almost always referred to food by the English not Yiddish names. In fact, Grandma Ida denied she even had an accent and refused to speak Yiddish because “I’m a Hamerican.”
So, I took out my food processor (no hand-grating for me) and spent an inordinate amount of time and effort to make carrot candy. It never solidified, even after I put it into the freezer. I think I was so worried about scorching it and ruining the sauce pan that I didn’t allow the liquid to evaporate completely. The flavor was okay, but the consistency wasn’t and it was very sticky. No one else ate it, and even I gave up after a while.
I never tried again, until a few days ago. Guess what? Still not as I remember. But I used more ginger, so the flavor is better. But it’s still too soft and sticky.
I now have both my mother’s and grandmother’s recipe boxes. I think it’s time to go through them. Maybe I can figure out why the taiglach – small balls of dough boiled in honey – another specialty of Grandma Gert’s, but for Rosh Hashanah not Pesach, always come out hard and dry.
Ingberlach (Ginger-Carrot Candies)
Slightly adapted from “The New International Goodwill Recipe Book,” published by the Women’s Zionist League of South Africa (1981).
6 cups peeled and grated carrots (from about 2 pounds of carrots)
3 1/2 cups sugar
juice and zest of 1 lemon (or 2 tbsp juice, 2 tsp zest)
juice and zest of 1 orange (or 1/3 cup oj, 2 tbsp zest)
2 teaspoons ginger, or more to taste
1) Place the carrots and sugar in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat.
2) Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until mixture turns thick and jammy, about 40 minutes.
3) Stir in the lemon and orange zests and juices, and the ginger, and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until mixture turns very thick and all of the liquid has evaporated, approximately 20 more minutes.
4) Mist a baking sheet lightly with water, then spoon the carrot mixture on top; gently smooth with a rubber spatula to a 1/2-inch thickness (if candy is sticking to the spatula, wet it with a little water).
5) Allow the candy to set, uncovered, in the fridge, then cut into rectangle or diamond-shapes. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.