Her specialty is the carrot tzimmes.
First she browns the chopped onions – two 5 pound bags of them – with six cubes of pareve margarine, to keep it kosher.
She adds her own blend of spices, mixes in two cups of honey, lots of brown sugar, cornstarch, cold water and three cups of lemon juice. Then she adds her sauce – which she calls “the essence” – to the sliced carrots.
Ethel Grossman’s first batch is done. She has 15 more to go.
Preparing 300 pounds of carrots this way for the annual Kosher Dinner at Temple Beth Shalom is a tradition for Grossman, who readily stepped into the kosher kitchen (then on Fourth Avenue and Adams Street) when she moved to Spokane in the early 1950s.
She remembers her oldest son, now 57, folding silverware into napkins at the first Kosher Dinner he participated in. About 200 people from the Jewish community were there.
“So my kids grew up with the idea of community and good food and enjoying friends,” she said.
At the time Spokane had two small synagogues and they each hosted an annual Kosher Dinner.
Eventually the two congregations joined together, moved to their current location on Perry Street, decided to have one annual Kosher Dinner and open it up to the entire Spokane community.
Grossman, who at the time worked for her family’s paint manufacturing company, remembers prepping for the Kosher Dinner in the 1970s by taking the day off, hiring a babysitter and selling tickets downtown with a group of women from the synagogue.
“We’d each take a street. Somebody would take Riverside, somebody would take Sprague, and somebody would take First Avenue. In those days businesses weren’t in such huge buildings like they are today,” Grossman said. “We had a lot of nerve going door to door and finding a person in charge and try to sell them tickets to the dinner.”
“They got a kick out of seeing us. Riverside was a jumping place; there weren’t so many nationally owned shops. They were all local. Local people took an interest in community activities in those days,” she said.
At noon the women would meet up for Chinese food, then go back home.
“It was a grass-roots effort to raise a little money and to enjoy good food together,” Grossman said. “That’s the Jewish tradition. If nothing else, let’s just eat. No matter what’s going on in the world, let’s just sit down and break bread together.”
Volunteers prepare food at the Kosher Dinner
The Kosher Dinner, Grossman said, is a celebration.
“It’s a way to inform the public about the fact that there is a living Jewish community here, and we are unique,” she said.
But, she added, it’s also about highlighting the traditional, kosher diet.
The meal is prepared in a kosher meat kitchen, which means all milk products have been removed (because it’s a milk kitchen the rest of the year) and special dishes and silverware are brought in and surfaces are washed with boiling water.
The meal starts with challah, a braided egg bread, and an antipasto of garbanzo beans, pickled herring and pickled beets. Then guests are served brisket, carrot tzimmes and potato knish.
The brisket comes from the East, as kosher brisket isn’t available in this area. Grossman explained that the meat is butchered humanely, then goes through a series of salt baths to draw out impurities and extra blood. Then it is washed. The knish is like a ravioli, with a filling wrapped in a flaky dough, Grossman said.
Apricot kuchen cake is served for desert.
“Everything in the dinner is healthy,” Grossman said.