In my family, there is one dish that is quintessentially for Shavuot, affectionately known as the “Big Blintze,” which takes the central ingredients of a cheese blintze and turns them into a delectable casserole. I try to make it every year for the holiday, or for the Shabbat closest to it, a creamy reminder of the custom of eating dairy food to commemorate the Revelation on Mount Sinai and our historical entrance to the land of milk and honey.
The recipe is from my mother; the tradition of eating it on Shavuot is not. While food played an outsized role in my childhood — a college roommate, on a visit to our home, said she never heard a family talk as much about food as ours did — I did not grow up particularly observant and, honestly, have no memory of anything special on Shavuot until my synagogue confirmation late in high school.
My parents were each raised in typical Orthodox fashion, and kept a kosher home when they married. But my father’s mother, sweet but very old-worldly, didn’t believe that my English-born mother kept kosher strictly enough, so my parents abandoned the tradition (or so the story goes.) All I know is that I grew up with two sets of dishes all mixed together and a grandmother who ate cottage cheese from a paper plate in the corner of the kitchen. Only as an adult, for very different reasons, did I overcome the negative connotations I had absorbed from childhood about the Jewish dietary laws and establish my own kosher home.
But the amazing thing about food traditions within families is that they are malleable, molded by the times we live in, and also by which we choose to continue, discard or reshape to reflect new sensibilities and values. So while the link between the Big Blintze and Shavuot is a relatively new one in my family, the recipe itself is old and constant, a consistent thread linking generations even if the context has changed.
My copy of the recipe remains on the 3-by-5 index card on which it was first written, the ink is fading and the card splotched, but the credit clear: “from Mom, of course.” Where did she find it? No longer alive to ask, I searched the rectangular recipe box I inherited from her, stuffed with newspaper clippings, scraps of paper, notes in my handwriting and my sister’s, and her favorite recipes, filed in no particular order.
And there I found not one, but two, renditions of what she called “Baked Cheese Blintze Casserole.” First, I spotted a typewritten version on a small piece of paper. Then I came upon the recipe written in my mother’s hand, on a lined index card with her friend Beverly’s name printed on the top. The recipes are essentially the same, the only difference is in the mix of cheeses used in the filling.
I have no idea how the name Big Blintze came about, but I believe it perfectly describes the dish, with its mixture of sweetness and tang, appearing deceptively easy to prepare but actually tricky to complete, a fitting accompaniment to a holiday that is both direct and highly complex. Enjoy.
The Big Blintze
Although this might sound like a dessert, we serve it as an entrée, with cold soup and a generous salad. It’s also a wonderful buffet dish.
½ pound melted margarine
½ cup sugar
¼ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 pounds farmer cheese, or 1 pound farmer cheese and 1 pound cottage cheese
¼ cup sugar
Juice of one lemon
1) Mix the wet batter ingredients, then add the sifted flour and baking powder. I find it best to make this in a food processor, so that the batter is smooth and fluffy. Pour a little less than half the batter into a greased 9-by-13 inch casserole dish, spreading evenly across the bottom.
2) Mix together ingredients for the filling, and spread evenly over the bottom layer of batter.
3) Now comes the hard part: covering the filling with the remaining batter. I find it works to place small blobs of the batter gently on the filling, then try to smooth them together with a small spatula or butter knife. (That’s why it’s best to have a little more batter to work with on top.)
4) Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes. Let cool completely before serving; if you can, refrigerate the casserole. It tastes especially yummy when it’s firm and cold.