Coffee a traditional Passover staple? Maybe not but…

Pesto and spring: a great combination

MARGI LENGA KAHN

As children, we occasionally question behaviors that adults around us take for granted. A good example is the array of food “laws” governing Passover. I grew up believing that coffee was one of those forbidden foods during Passover. My grandparents back in Poland would never have thought of drinking coffee on Passover, and they passed that “law” onto my parents.

Thus I couldn’t understand why every year at our seder we read from a Passover Haggadah whose cover read, in bold print, “Compliments of the Coffees of Maxwell House.” It seemed like they were awfully good sports about the holiday.

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Imagine my surprise when I learned that in 1923 Maxwell House Coffee became the first coffee in America to be certified kosher for Passover. The Maxwell House Coffee marketing department met with rabbis and scholars and put together a Haggadah. They printed the first Maxwell House Haggadah back in 1935, and it came to be known within the company as a “marketing” Haggadah. The plan was to offer the Haggadah free of charge to Jewish families purchasing Maxwell House coffee products–although by the time I was growing up in St. Louis, copies were stacked at the end of the checkout aisle at Schenberg’s, free to all customers regardless of their purchases.

The Maxwell House Haggadah has become the Haggadah of choice for many families. By 2004, there were more than 40 million copies in print. Nevertheless, no one in my family will drink a cup of coffee after the seder meal — or at anytime during the holiday — even one that’s kosher for Passover and “good to the last drop.”

For more than 70 years, the text of the Maxwell House Haggadah has been the same. Though we’ll get to ways to spice up your seder dinner with coffee in a moment, if you want to spice up your coffee Haggadah, encourage your family to create your own version. One of my co-workers, Alison Melnik, chuckles as she tells me about the Haggadah her family put together three years ago.

“My mom had seen this done by one of her friends and wanted our family to have our own. We all laughed and rolled our eyes at the suggestion. But now that it’s done, our Haggadah has become a special part of our Passover seders.”

Take some time to browse through various Haggadahs or, if you have access to the computer, here are a few websites to help you: opensourcehaggadah.com (you may need to install a language pack on your computer to download the Hebrew); http://www.hagada.com; kosher4passover.com (a great site for Passover songs); chabad.org. For resources on social justice Haggadahs, visit www.jujstl.org.

But back to coffee. Though I still won’t drink a cup during Passover, I never said I wouldn’t cook with coffee for the holiday. In fact, the addition of coffee in savory dishes provides mystery and depth, especially when used as a marinade or sauce with meats. And, of course, it’s great with chocolate.

Below are two Passover recipes that include coffee. While there are no doubt “official” kosher for Passover versions of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce in Hispanic countries (chile peppers are on the list of “permitted” foods for Passover) it may be impossible to find them here. If you prefer, you can substitute 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce mixed with 2 teaspoons of ancho chile powder for the canned chipotle chiles listed in the recipe below.

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