This past summer weekend in June I took a trip down with my mother and my girls Micah and Sacha to visit Little Syria in Deal, New Jersey. I was looking forward to getting out of the city and visiting my mother’s aunt Evelyn, who so reminds me of my Grandmother Fritzie (her oldest sibling). I was also looking forward to the Syrian food because it always tastes better to me when I eat it there. I don’t know if it’s because Evelyn is such a great cook, or that she reminds me so much of my grandmother, or that it’s just better because someone else has prepared it for me. All that I know is that it’s comforting and tastes like the past.
Early on Sunday morning, before all the family started arriving in droves, I cornered my aunt Evelyn and asked if I could quickly interview her about her memories of Passover while growing up in Brooklyn. After the talk she showed me her closet and pulled out a few special dishes and platters that she had stowed away. The most special thing that she showed me was this beautifully ornate silver bowl that had little hooks running all around to hold tiny silver forks with mother of pearl handles. This bowl was from her husband’s mother who most likely brought it from Syria on her way back to Egypt, and was meant to contain a special Sephardic confection known as a “spoon sweet.”. These jams, Evelyn explained to me, were often served during the week of Passover for guests when they came over for a short visit. While there could be a number of various flavors, in Syria they were often made of grated coconut, rosewater, and blanched almonds, or apricot, orange blossom water, and pistachios. The way that it was served was with the inner glass bowl filled with the jam, the tiny forks or spoons in a tray next to the bowl (or in this case hanging on small hooks running around the bowl), an empty glass next to the bowl for each fork to be placed with used, and lastly a clean glass of water for the guest to drink after his spoonful to wash it all down. What I love about this sweet is that it has a ritual all of its own. The bowl. The fork. The empty glass. The glass full of refreshing water. Each with its definitive role, making each sweet spoonful an experience not to be missed.