Bubbie’s Latkes

latkes 2 wikiAs the eight-day holiday of Chanukah starts, we present Susan Gartenberg’s remembrance of her grandmother’s potato pancakes (latkes in Yiddish). This dish is traditional for Chanukah because it is fried in oil, recalling the Chanukah miracle when one day’s oil in the rededicated Temple lasted for eight days. Susan Gartenberg grew up in Detroit and is a retired preschool and elementary school educator. Her three grandchildren now enjoy their bubbie’s latkes!

Susan Gartenberg

Susan Gartenberg

My bubbie made the best potato latkes and coffee cakes!

Like many Jewish grandmothers in those days, she never had a recipe.

One day, when my children were very young, Bubbie came to help me make latkes. She wore her usual cotton house dress with a zipper in front. She put on a cotton print apron and watched me peel potatoes.

“Oy vay, you’re wasting half the potatoes!” she cried as I continued peeling with my fancy new left-handed peeler.

She took over and, one-two-three, those potatoes were peeled! I invited more families to celebrate Chanukah with us, and before I knew it, we had 15 pounds of potatoes

Many Chanukah menorahs use oil instead of candles to commemorate the Chanukah miracle.

Many Chanukah menorahs use oil instead of candles to commemorate the Chanukah miracle.

peeled and grated by hand (no food processors in those days)!

We fried the latkes, overwhelming our guests with the aroma.

Nothing was too much for Bubbie, not even 50 guests for Chanukah.

Bubbie’s coffee cakes were known throughout our community. She kneaded the dough filled with cinnamon and raisins and allowed it to rise, covered with a cloth, on the top of her gas stove, then baked the cakes in white enamel pans with red trim.

After baking she would cover the warm cakes with a kitchen towel and place them in an empty cardboard tomato  basket. Some of the cakes remained on the stove in her home so she could greet guests with tea and cake and a “shtekel” (cube of) sugar.

My zadie believed women shouldn’t drive, so Bubbie, wearing a flowered front-zippered housedress and a white sweater, and I would walk – and

Susan and her bubbie, Esther LeZebik

Susan and her bubbie, Esther LeZebik

walk, and walk – to bring her fragrant coffee cakes and latkes to family and friends for the holiday.

I could never replicate the coffee cakes but I can remember that the most important ingredient was the love Bubbie incorporated into every recipe. I can feel it even as I remember her cooking.

Another thing I remember is that I, as the first grandchild, could do no wrong in Bubbie’s eyes.
When my mother would become  angry at me for some childish infraction, Bubbie would say, in Yiddish,  “She won’t do it again.”  I always felt very special and very loved.

The recipe below is adapted from Epicurious.

Bubbie’s Potato Latkes

Bubbie’s Potato Latkes


  • 1 pound potatoes
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • Accompaniments: sour cream and applesauce


  1. Preheat oven to 250°F.
  2. Peel potatoes and coarsely grate by hand, transferring to a large bowl of cold water as grated. Soak potatoes 1 to 2 minutes after last batch is added to water, then drain well in a colander.
  3. Spread grated potatoes and onion on a kitchen towel and roll up jelly-roll style. Twist towel tightly to wring out as much liquid as possible.
  4. Transfer potato mixture to a bowl and stir in egg and salt.
  5. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches of 4 latkes, spoon 2 tablespoons potato mixture per latke into skillet, spreading into 3-inch rounds with a fork
  6. Reduce heat to moderate and cook until undersides are browned, about 5 minutes.
  7. Turn latkes over and cook until undersides are browned, about 5 minutes more.
  8. Transfer to paper towels to drain and season with salt.
  9. Add more oil to skillet as needed.
  10. Keep latkes warm on a wire rack set in a shallow baking pan in oven.


Grating the potatoes, soaking them briefly in water, and then squeezing out the liquid (as we've done here) keeps the batter from turning brown too quickly.

Latkes may be made up to 8 hours ahead. Reheat on a rack set over a baking sheet in a 350°F oven, about 5 minutes.




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