It starts with blueberries, 4 cups of them.
Simmered in a saucepan, with sugar and lemon juice, the blueberries break down. They burst and bubble. And as they boil, the mixture thickens into a syrupy, tart sauce.
Next, the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, sugar, baking powder. I mix together the wet ingredients: eggs, ricotta, buttermilk, vanilla extract. Once the dry and wet ingredients are combined, I take two spoons, and dollop the batter onto a griddle shimmering with vegetable oil.
From the griddle, the ricotta pancakes caramelize and turn crisp at the edges. I serve them warm, with a glossy spoonful of blueberry sauce.
Ricotta pancakes with blueberry compote have been my present for the past 3 or 4 Mother’s Days to my mom. It’s her favorite breakfast in the world, and it’s my gift to her each year, including birthdays.
This year, Shavuot comes close to Mother’s Day, and it got me thinking, what are the similarities between the two holidays? Are there qualities of Shavuot within Mother’s Day, and of Mother’s Day within Shavuot?
A personal connection is the name, my mom’s name, Naomi. She appears in the Book of Ruth, which we study each year on Shavuot. After her sons die, Naomi’s daughter-in-law Ruth says those fated words, “I will go where you go. Wherever you go will be my home.” In the Book of Ruth, motherhood is a relationship that’s both loving and complex. Ruth and Naomi form a bond after her sons’ death: Ruth follows her home to Bethlehem and they live together; Ruth gleans in the barley fields to support the two of them, and Naomi helps Ruth meet a new husband.
In the Book of Ruth, mothers and daughters aren’t related by blood. For some people, who grew up without mothers, Naomi can be an inspiration. She’s a mother who adopts someone not related to her by tribe or blood. Through Naomi and Ruth’s relationship, we see how anyone can become a mother. And we can see how the strength of the mother-child bond grows in the shadow of loss.
Sacrifice connects these two holidays as well. Shavuot commemorates the animal and grain offerings that Jews made during the days of the Holy Temple. As a way to honor receiving the Torah, Jews traveled from all over, to perform ritual sacrifices and receive blessings.
It’s impossible for me to think of motherhood without thinking of sacrifice. My mom made professional and personal sacrifices to raise my sister and me. But there’s an understanding that these sacrifices aren’t being tallied. My mom doesn’t wake me up on Mother’s Day, saying to me, “Hey, carrying you for 9 months was really painful. Where are my pancakes?” There’s a sense that — just like with ancient Israelites and their offerings — these sacrifices are performed from a place of love.
My family’s love of dairy is the last — and most personal — connection between the holidays. On Shavuot, we’re asked to eat all kinds of dairy foods — cheese, yogurt, stuffed crepes called blintzes. Sephardi Jews often eat a sweetened milk pudding called malabi.
In my family, we trade off blintz recipes each year. Sometimes we try my bubbe’s rich, silky ricotta blintzes, or my Grammy’s oozing blueberry blintzes. Last year, during the lockdown, my dad made ricotta blintzes fortified with orange zest, then fried to golden perfection in butter. I don’t have a huge sweet tooth, but blintzes are one of my favorite Jewish foods. A good blintz is like a good hug — it’s warm, comforting, sweet-smelling and tender.
My mother’s favorite breakfast — and our traditional breakfast for her on Mother’s Day and birthdays — is also a dairy food. I don’t know exactly how my mom came to love ricotta pancakes, but she can’t get enough of them. When I was still living in New York, my mom came to visit. Her trip happened to overlap with her birthday, and so there I was, riding the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan, with a warm tray of ricotta pancakes and blueberry sauce on my lap.
During Shavuot and Mother’s Day, I hope that you offer your own version of thanks for the sacrifices that mothers make. Mothers can come from many places, and sometimes our mothers aren’t related to us by blood, but something even thicker and stronger.
And if you’re not vegan or lactose intolerant, I hope you enjoy something with dairy during Shavuot. Maybe you can even make my mother’s favorite: Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Blueberry Compote.
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