It’s like clockwork. Every spring in the weeks leading up to Passover, I receive a slew of texts, emails and calls with requests for and questions about my chocolate macaroon recipe.
The thing is, it’s not my macaroon recipe. Some friends think this is my Aunt Jo (my late mother’s older sister’s) recipe. It’s really not even hers. The recipe belongs to Aunt Jo’s late mother-in-law, Edna Hochman. I called her Ednee, which was her grandmother name given to her by my cousin when he couldn’t say Edna as a little boy.
My Aunt Jo made this recipe a little famous in the late 1990s when she was asked to contribute to a cookbook that was sold with great success to raise money for a Jewish nursing home which my family has supported for three generations. I know it by heart, but if I ever wanted to double check a measurement, the cookbook easily opens to the macaroon page (263) as it was long ago made thicker by smears of dried melted chocolate and egg whites. In the book, my Aunt Jo included a sweet story (no pun intended) about how she remembers Ednee making the macaroons when Aunt Jo first came to her then-boyfriend — my Uncle Dick’s — house at age 17. She recalls the warmth and what some would call magic of her future mother-in-law baking in the kitchen and how Ednee said that one day, she hoped a future Hochman would make these macaroons. Aunt Jo hoped that Hochman would be her. And it was.
These macaroons were at all of the seders of my childhood, hosted by Aunt Jo and Uncle Dick. And they made a guest appearance at the first seder I attended at my future in-laws, soon after I became engaged to my boyfriend, now husband of 23 years. My parents were invited to that seder, and famous in our family for having a terrible sense of directions, my mom and dad knocked on the door of the neighbor’s house. The neighbors happened to be hosting a seder, too, so my mother handed the plate of macaroons to the woman who greeted her at the door.
“These are my sister’s macaroons,” said my mother with her giant signature smile, followed shortly under her breath to my father, “Where are Rachel and Neil and who are all these people?”
She took her plate back from the imposter hostess and made it to the correct seder. We still laugh about the case of the mistaken seder. My mother-in-law still makes the macaroons. My Aunt Jo still does, too.
I have hosted only one seder in my life, which is kind of surprising since I love to entertain. I think I am intimidated by making matzah ball soup, serving gefilte fish and hunting down a shank bone. It was in 2003, when I was living in Ann Arbor as a graduate student shortly after getting married. I made the macaroons and had over a few friends, using the extra haggadahs that Aunt Jo sent to me, complete with Uncle Dick’s notes in the margins of family members’ names and their assigned parts for the seder. I wondered while baking the macaroons that year how my mother was doing at our family’s seder back home, as that year she was quite sick. It would be her second to last one.
I began making the macaroons in droves for friends and extended family several years after I hosted that seder. I had a kitchen with a double oven, a KitchenAid mixer and little kids who liked to help me pour in the coconut. I also had Aunt Jo to call with any last minute questions (she says it’s OK to melt the chocolate chips in the microwave) and reminisce about the seders of our pasts.
Aunt Jo is my last bloodline connection to my mother, to my maternal grandparents and to a time and place that feels so far away from my day-to-day busy grownup life. Aunt Jo is my memory. On a recent visit to her in Savannah, where she moved with Uncle Dick soon after my grandparents and mother died, I asked her more questions than usual, feeling the pressure to know it all and to remember it all, too.
I think of Ednee as a I drop each piece of chocolate mixed with egg whites and coconut by rounded teaspoons on parchment paper. She was once described to me as a woman who was small in stature ( I don’t think she was even 5 feet) but giant in presence and spirit. I adored her as a little girl. Ednee had only grandsons and so I like to think she thought of me as an adoptive granddaughter. I certainly thought of her as an adoptive grandmother. She sent me lollipops at camp, well hidden in packages, and she made needlepoint pillows for my mother that looked like works of art. I still have those pillows. Ednee lost a son too young, which I didn’t quite understand as a child, but started to as a young adult, realizing how her strength and spirit did indeed make her the giant of a woman that she truly was. Ednee died in her early 90s on my 25th birthday in 1999.
Ednee’s younger son, my Uncle Dick, died last year. Our large extended family gathered at the cemetery to say goodbye on a cold and wet Fall day. I found myself not wanting to leave the damp cemetery as others gathered in their warm cars. I wandered around to visit the headstones of other family members nearby, reading the same names that were penciled into the margins of those hagaddahs.
And so I smile as the texts, emails and calls come in about Ednee’s macaroons every year. It gives me joy beyond measure to share her recipe with others. I’ve taught several baking classes about these macaroons. I have shared them in newsletters, during an online baking show I host and on social media. A picture of Ednee’s macaroons on Instagram! That is a concept that would surely seem strange and quite futuristic to the Ednee I knew.
They say that the people we love live on through us, through our memories of them, the stories that we tell about them and they way we live our lives in accordance with their values. I know that to be true — in who I am, in the questions my kids ask me about my mom, my grandparents and more recently Uncle Dick. And in Ednee and the sweet taste of her magical macaroons.
Here is the recipe:
- 4 egg whites
- 1 pinch of salt
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 12 oz semisweet chocolate chips
- 14 oz shredded coconut
- Preheat oven to 350
- Beat egg whites until stiff
- Add salt and cream of tartar
- Add in sugar and vanilla and mix with blender
- Melt chocolate chips in double boiler and pour into mixture and mix with blender
- Add in coconut and mix with spoon
- Drop by rounded teaspoons on cookie trays lined with parchment paper
- Bake for 12-14 minutes
- Cool on wire rack