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At Hanukkah, Pastry Reminds Portland Jews Of Their Mediterranean Roots

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At Hanukkah, Pastry Reminds Portland Jews Of Their Mediterranean Roots

Holiday Recipes

At Hanukkah, Pastry Reminds Portland Jews Of Their Mediterranean Roots

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. In many Jewish homes, families are grating potatoes even as we speak to fry up latkes tonight for the first night of Hanukkah. But a few families are making a different treat - something called boyos. These savory - I hope they're savory - coiled pastries are made by Jews with roots in the Ottoman Empire. Deena Prichep visits one Oregon family that's kept their boyo-making tradition going for several generations.


DEENA PRICHEP, BYLINE: Every available space in Renee Ferrera's Portland kitchen is taken over with boyos. There are bowls of spinach and cheese filling, trays of uncooked boyos waiting for a dusting of Romano cheese...

RENEE FERRERA: OK. Ron, I'm doing your job here.

PRICHEP: ...and racks and racks of golden pastries cooling from the oven.

FERRERA: OK. We have a tray ready.

PRICHEP: Ferrera's boyo recipe comes from Aegean island of Rhodes, with its mix of Greek and Turkish cuisines. Her family came from there a few generations back. Boyos are also called bulemas and were traditionally made for Shabbat and holidays. But these busy days, it's usually just the holidays. Growing up, Ferrera and her cousins always looked forward to them.

FERRERA: We would be sitting at the table eating these like crazy. And then we would start fighting over who had how many. You know, you can't have that one, I've only had one. This is my second. Literally, at the table during the holiday.

PRICHEP: Needless to say, this behavior did not go over too well.

FERRERA: So, finally, my mother, I think it was, said: That's enough. You kids don't understand how hard it is to make these. We work for two days, slaving over them, and you guys eat them down like candy. Next year, you're going to make them, not us. And I'm sure my mother said it expecting us to say, oh, no, we appreciate everything. Instead, we said: OK. That's what we'll do.

PRICHEP: That challenge was issued 25 years ago, and every year since then, the cousins - now with grown kids of their own - have gathered together to make the boyos. Pulling out the handwritten recipe every year connects the cousins to family that's no longer around. And Renee Ferrera says it's especially important, given their history.

FERRERA: At the synagogue in Rhodes, there's a big plaque that has the last names of all the families that were taken to the concentration camp. And every single family name in my whole extended family is listed on that plaque.

PRICHEP: Today, there are just a handful of Jews left on Rhodes. But in this kitchen, there's a full-swing boyo production line. Cousin Ron Sidis comes every year.

RON SIDIS: There are times where every workstation is taken. And there'll be four around the table rolling the boyos. I've always been the doughboy. I've always done the dough, from day one.

PRICHEP: As befitting an Ottoman Hanukkah tradition, the dough is rich and flaky with oil. And as befitting any holiday, the mood in this kitchen is warm. Although there have been some squabbles over the years.

SIDIS: It wasn't that bad.

FERRERA: Yes, it was. You kicked out my mother from my house, even. It was my house and you kicked her out.

SIDIS: You remember we were talking about the ruffles being feathered.

FERRERA: And that's as serious as it gets, too.


PRICHEP: Although the older generation was banned from the kitchen - the fight had something to do with an eggshell - they were eventually let back in. And seeing the tradition continue meant a lot to them.

SIDIS: After my mother, she got Alzheimer's, and we would pick her up and bring her over. And she actually took each boyo and put it in the Romano cheese for us. I mean, she didn't have to talk, and she was just there helping us.

PRICHEP: Even when Ron's mother couldn't remember the words, she still remembered how to make the boyos. And as the cousins joke back and forth and divvy up nearly 150 boyos in the kitchen, it's clear that the tradition will stay with them as well. For NPR News, I'm Deena Prichep, in Portland, Oregon.

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