The blintz that has become standard issue in the U.S. over the past 30 or so years is not the blintz of my childhood. I dream about my grandmother’s blintzes, and her kugel, and her gefilte fish, all of them uncorrupted by sugar. (Even the bagel my sister just offered to share with me, flavored with cinnamon and raisins, strikes me as an aberration, some kind of alternative foodstuff that has nothing to do with the Sunday morning bagels of my youth.)
I never tasted a sweet blintz until I came to New York for college. I had been delighted to see blintzes, standard fare in our family at least once a week, offered for brunch, until I tasted them. Blueberry sauce? Strawberries? Cherries? Those belonged in sweetrolls (what Danishes were called in Milwaukee), not on a blintz.
In our Litvak family, blintzes were adorned only with sour cream—LOTS of sour cream. The same was true of kugels, which did not contain raisins, or cinnamon, or apples—or sugar. Even latkes (devoid of onion, but fried golden and crispy) were topped with sour cream (although since my mother’s family was from Ukraine, applesauce and sugar were both on the table, for those who felt they had to have them.
I used to watch my grandmother make blintzes, enough for an army, because my family were big eaters, and often brought friends home, unannounced, for lunch or dinner. She would pull the table (my table now!) over near the stove and flip pan after pan of bletlach onto the clean tablecloth that covered it. Then, when they’d cooled, she’d stack them up.
The filling was made with DRY cottage cheese—can you even find dry cottage cheese anywhere anymore? Joan Nathan recommended farmer’s cheese, but out here in the midwest, farmer’s cheese—when you can find it—is more expensive than brie.
This is not to say that it was impossible to combine part of a blintz with something sweet. In summer, when the farmers who sometimes peddled their wares from door to door came by with freshly picked raspberries or strawberries, my grandmother would make fresh jams, and would substitute bletlach for crepes suzette (the recipe is very similar, although the bletlach are thinner). She woud spread them with a little of the freshly made jam, and roll them up. But sprinkle sugar on them? Why gild the lily?
A few years ago, my cousin Natalie, who just turned 90, told me she was making blintzes for her family to break their Yom Kippur fast. Hesitantly, I asked, “You don’t put sugar in them, do you?”
“Never!” she exclaimed in horror.
We’re Litvaks from the Midwest, uncorrupted by big city ways. Those of us from west of New Jersey haven’t abandoned the food of our fathers (and mothers) for New York’s standards. When it comes to posting recipes, can we get equal time?
Ellen M Kozak is a lawyer and writer in Milwaukee. Her most recent book is The Everything US Constitution Book, published by Adams Media. She prefers her blintzes with no sugar added.