An Accidental Seder
Caught up on dishes and water carafes filled, we were enjoying a moment of calm as we waited to plate the salad course at this past weekend’s Farm to Table Dinner. Our diners were currently on their 4th, the smoked brisket main, which meant there had been enough time to open their second and third bottles of wine. The room was buzzing, full of conversation between strangers turned new-friends having sat together a few hours at a communal table. Then, as I fiddled with the sieved egg garnish for the salad, something occurred to me. We’d just thrown an accidental Seder (so long as you ignore the coppa on the cheese plate).
I’m no expert, of course. A lapsed Catholic from the midwest, my only Passover experience prior to moving to New York was a sort of cultural-immersion luncheon my Catholic school held, replacing our usual ham and cheeses with a Seder plate. I was in the third grade and don’t remember anything beyond the confession afterwards: a few of us had gotten bored and decided to throw our hard boiled eggs at each other. In my defense, they’d been over-boiled and the grey/green yolk was even more off-putting than our usual Aramark fare. The priest must not have known the hell of a rubbery egg though, and didn’t accept this defense. We were told to say three Glory Bes (Score! This was by far the best penance as it’s a full 2 stanzas shorter than a Hail Mary) and, much more traumatically, were made to stand in front of our classmates and apologize. What can I say, shame is the Catholic way, we’ll leave the guilt to our Jewish friends.
Who would have predicted then, that this egg-thrower’s next Passover experiences, over a decade later, would be as host? Technically, I didn’t host the first few. The tradition began while I was still in school. An older, just graduated, and actually Jewish friend was unable to get home for the holiday and wanted to host a dinner for other diasporic Jews. And, seeing as no college kid declines an invitation to any event which includes mandatory wine drinking, about a dozen of us gathered for our first Ditmas Park Seder.
It was more than a little unorthodox, with a predominately goy guest list and a Haggadah designed for our short-attention spans (“I Believe I Can Fly” featured prominently), but, between the wine, the brisket, singing, and sharing a meal with friends, I was hooked. When I graduated they moved and I claimed their apartment with some other friends. As we took over their lease, the only condition was that we continue to host the yearly Passover celebration. I more than happily obliged, and every year since have hosted Ditmas Park Seder for a steadily growing group of mostly agnostic food-loving friends.
Until this year, when on the first night of Seder I’m spooning sieved egg onto gem lettuces at The Farm Cooking School and realizing that, by total coincidence, we’re serving a very Passover-y menu:
The first course, a cheese and charcuterie plate, was topped with a large rectangular (and very unleavened) sourdough cracker, to be broken and shared.
Following a venison carpaccio, an intermezzo of apple-celery sorbet with horseradish and olive oil elegantly stood in for our charoset and maror.
Ian’s smoked brisket, braised til falling apart spoke for itself. Served with the karpas of creamed chickweed and daikon radish glazed in a salty sauerkraut brine, so umami-rich and luscious it might bring tears to your eyes.
And of course, the egg on the plate which I was currently serving to our guests, sprinkled over a salad of lettuce regally retained as a head rather than torn apart (the farm to table wedge).
This all was rather remarkable, a seemingly impossible coincidence, until I considered that the foods we associate with holidays - the Seder plate, the Thanksgiving spread, the Feast of the Seven Fishes - are often the pinnacle of farm-to-table and regional eating. People once cooked only what was available where they lived, and this approach has been preserved in these holiday traditions.
So today, when you cook your holiday meals, consciously or not, you’re likely cooking seasonally. Or in our case, when you prepare a farm to table dinner in mid-Spring, you prepare a Passover Seder entirely by accident.
As we cleared the tables there occurred to me one final coincidence. Due to some confusion about our reservations, as dinner was beginning we were uncertain whether a final party would be coming and set a table for them just in case. In the end, they hadn’t made it. And so, this table was set, next to a door left open in the warm spring evening, so that Elijah might come and enjoy our farm’s produce and our accidental Seder.