Remember Manischewitz

kosherwine.jpgmelanie_chartoff.jpgThe other day I took a walk through Wally's, my local wine emporium's autumn sale and was bottle shocked by the number of kosher wine choices on display—Ninety-seven Jewtique labels. From Israel to Australia to the Valley of Napa, there are rabbis rendering grapes right for Jewish tables the world over.

Although pleased as wine punch that my brethren can sip with confidence from so many vineyards at all the holiday tables to come, I felt drowned in a sudden wave of nostalgia, for, over in a less popular corner, I spied some "Man Oh Manischewitz – What a Wine" languishing, neglected for a mere $4.99 in its own dust.  

And a flood of bittersweet tasting memories ensued…of my parentally enforced Prohibition.  The years of my youth when I was served Welch's grape juice in a grown up glass at the holidays to placate my longing for the real deal.  I sipped the faux, while the elders were slurping Manischewitz, the manna of the God, the only choice in that era, with lip-smacking satisfaction.  I'd lift my grape laced goblet, toast and boast—'Lookit! Lookit how fast I can drink it!" 

lipstickwineglass.jpgBad habits were setting in so soon in my life.  I had just licked the thumb-sucking addiction, and here I was mainlining the gateway drug grape juice to ready myself for the real deal . My aunts and uncles would laugh and applaud.  Oh, how I could chug the stuff down, purpling my mouth with flavor, longing for lipstick like my mother wore Joan Crawford style, well beyond the outline of her real lips. Her lipstick on a wine glass seemed the height of adulthood to me.  I couldn't wait to grow into them both. When finally deemed a woman at age thirteen in a brand new training bra (I didn't outgrow the training wheels on my bike, either til I was fourteen), I was served Manischewitz Concord Grape for the very first time.

It was so warm and sweet like a lollipop, my criterion for good things at that time.  How much like lollipop could a thing taste?  Koolaid was incredible, Hawaiian Punch was lollypop primo, jello was swell, those flavored colored waters that came in waxed little soda bottles were scrumptious – and Manischewitz was the best yet.  I slurped it, and other versions of it and extra helpings and paid a price as the aftermath was not so nice.  Granted, I hadn't a very sophisticated palette, and my precocious epicurean taste for sweet wines didn't evolve much from those days, as I couldn't stomach the hangovers.  But, like a first kiss, the experience has never faded from my lips.

traditional_products.jpgFlash forward to me lifting the bottles to read their labels—Cherry, Concord Dry, Black Cherry, Blackberry, Loganberry…Elderberry? (The latter won't be gracing my table, you can count on that!) Now at a vintage age, I had toured and understood the wine making process as it involved grapes.  But, how were the logan and elder harvested and kosherized, I mused. Were rambunctious rabbis doing the kazatski to klezmer music, juicing their feet on all sorts of fruits for fermentation in happy vats somewhere?  Where were these very berry wine vines and how could I visit?

I asked Glen Curtis of the Widmer Winery in Naples New York for some insights, as he has harvested the grapes for Manischewitz bottles since the late 1980s, when Manischewitz was the best-selling brand name in kosher wines.  He gently explained that there are no joyous rabbinical feet smooshing the fruit in madcap berry dances to Hava Na Gila. Rather, loganberry and elderberry juice are unromantically grown and purchased through the proper channels from Washington State, cherry and blackberry juices from Europe.  The process of fermentation is done with great sobriety in massive containers to prepare them for bottling.  The formal blessing is performed by representatives of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

But no matter.  I loyally bought all the berry and grape versions left in Wally's discount bin.  And if no one wants to hoist a glass of my Manischewitz for imbibing, I'll simply smuggle it into some hamisha good cooking in the holiday months to come.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

1 cup flour
2 teaspoons white pepper
2 eggs
1 (11.6 oz) box Manischewitz Kishka

2 Tablespoons corn oil
½ cup Manischewitz clear condensed chicken broth
¾ cup Manischewitz
Blackberry wine
2 sprigs fresh parsley
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare kishka according to package directions using stovetop method. Cool to room temperature.

In a small bowl, season flour with pepper. Beat small eggs in another small bowl.

Cut a deep horizontal pocket into each breast of chicken. Stuff 1/3 to ½ cup of kishka into each piece of chicken (as much as you can fit!). Pinch the edges of pocket closed and tuck ends under.

Dip the stuffed breast in beaten egg then dredge through seasoned flour.

Heat oil in skillet over medium flame.

When oil is hot, pan fry the chicken until golden brown, about 4 minutes on each side.

Remove chicken to shallow baking dish and finish cooking in the oven for an additional 20 minutes.

To the hot skillet, add the Manischewitz Blackberry wine and chicken broth. Continue cooking over medium flame until reduced to a fine glaze - the same 20 minutes while the chicken is in the oven!

Remove the chicken from the oven, pour blackberry sauce over all pieces.

Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.  Happy New Year!