Most Jewish Americans grew up eating and drinking Manischewitz products. From grape wine to gefilte fish, Manischewitz has been an integral part of the Jewish holidays for over a century. You might be surprised to learn that it all started with matzo. In March of 1888, Rabbi Dov Behr Manischewitz turned to his wife and said “I’m going to bake matzos this year.” Previously matzo had been baked in synagogues, but times were changing. The Jewish community in the United States was growing steadily, and the timing was right for independent matzo bakers to set up shops of their own. Rabbi Manischewitz’s hope when opening a small bakery in Cincinnati, Ohio was to provide his close friends and family with unleavened bread during Passover. Word spread quickly, and soon he was selling to many more Jews throughout the city. The bakery achieved success early on. While Rabbi Manischewitz was certainly innovative, he always remained dedicated to the spiritual needs of his customers.
By the end of the 1800s, the high demand for Rabbi Manischewitz’s matzo required that he begin using gas-fired ovens in lieu of the coal-powered ovens used by most Jewish bakers. The new gas ovens allowed him to carefully control baking speeds, which in turn provided him with an opportunity to ensure that the quality of his product was consistent. By March of 1907, the small Manischewitz bakery became a 37,000 square foot factory that produced 20,000 pounds of matzo every day. The company was also the first to package matzo for shipment, which made it possible to send them well beyond Cincinnati to exotic overseas destinations like Japan, France and New Zealand. Rabbi Manischewitz’s operation became a model for kosher bakeries around the world.
After his passing in 1914, Rabbi Manischewitz’s son Jacob took over operations as the new president of the The B. Manischewitz Company. He introduced many significant developments to the matzo-making process, including a very expensive piece of machinery in 1920 that pushed out 12.5 million matzos per day. These machine-produced matzos were identical in their square shape, texture and appearance, making them easily distinguishable as a Manischewitz matzo. In 1932 a second Manischewitz factory was built in Jersey City, New Jersey. This proved to be a smart move, considering its proximity to a much larger Jewish population. Distribution to east coast grocery stores and delis became more efficient and an even larger customer base grew. The success of the new factory made it possible to shut down the Cincinnati factory altogether.
Manischewitz began venturing beyond matzos in 1940 when the Tam-Tam cracker was introduced. In 1954, when the company purchased a processing plant in Vineland, New Jersey, the line of products grew further. Hand-packed favorites like borscht, chicken soup and gefilte fish could now be widely distributed under the Manischewitz name. Today the Manischewitz Company produces hundreds of kosher products and remains the top matzo producer in the world.
Manischewitz started with matzo, so it seems fitting that my second “Thanksgivukah” recipe for the company be made with their famous matzo meal (ground matzo squares). Who says you need to wait for Passover to enjoy matzo? It’s a great substitute for breadcrumbs year-round, and I recently discovered it makes a delicious topping for a fruit crisp. This simple and crave-worthy recipe for Matzo Crisp with Pear, Apple and Cranberries can be made dairy or pareve. It’s so easy to put together, a seasonal and scrumptious option for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, or just because. Who can resist the power of a warm, freshly baked fruit crisp? Add a scoop of ice cream and prepare to swoon!
**A quick reminder before dessert – to celebrate Thanksgivukah, Manischewitz is hosting an online recipe contest with a $1,000 prize. Like” the Manischewitz page on Facebook for more details (official rules here). The contest deadline has been extended to November 17, which means you have some extra time to get those last-minute recipes turned in! Meanwhile, check out these fabulous Thanksgivukah links from Manischewitz:
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Matzo Crisp with Pear, Apple and Cranberries
- 1 1/2 lbs pears, peeled, cored and diced
- 1 1/2 lbs Gala apples, peeled, cored and diced
- 12 oz cranberries- fresh or frozen (1 bag)
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 3 tbps minute tapioca
- 2 tbsp orange juice
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp orange zest
- 1 tsp orange blossom water (optional)
- 3/4 cup Manischewitz matzo meal
- 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans, almonds or walnuts
- 8 tbsp chilled unsalted butter or non-hydrogenated margarine cut into 1-inch pieces (use margarine to make vegan)
- Vanilla ice cream or crème fraîche for serving, if desired (use a dairy free ice cream to keep this dessert pareve)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a mixing bowl, toss together all filling ingredients and stir gently till combined. Let the mixture stand for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the first 7 topping ingredients - matzo meal, brown sugar, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and salt. Pulse a few times till ingredients are blended.
- Add nuts and unsalted butter or margarine pieces to the processor. Continue to pulse till the mixture is combined and crumbly. Do not over-process-- you want some texture to the nuts and bits of butter in the mix. If you don't have a processor, you can instead mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the butter mixture with your fingers or a pastry blender. Work the butter into the mixture till a crumbly texture forms.
- Grease the baking dish with butter or nonstick cooking spray. Pour filling mixture into your baking dish and spread it in an even layer.
- Sprinkle the topping evenly over the top of the fruit filling. Place the baking dish on a cookie sheet - this will catch any overflow of fruit juice in the oven.
- Put the crisp and cookie sheet in the oven and let it bake for 50-60 minutes, turning once during baking, till the crisp topping is lightly browned.
- Remove the crisp from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve the crisp warm topped with vanilla ice cream or crème fraîche, if desired.
- Store any leftover crisp in the refrigerator. Reheat before serving.
“History.” Manischewitz 120. The Manischewitz Company, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.
“Our History.” Manischewitz. The Manischewitz Company, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.
Sarna, Jonathan D. “How Matzah Became Square: Manischewitz and the Development of Machine-Made Matzah in the United States.” Brandeis University. Graduate School Of Jewish Studies Touro College, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.