You don't have to be Jewish to appreciate the history and tradition of matzo ball soup. The saga behind this simple food actually started many years before the existence of matzo, matzo balls or the soup itself.
Anyone who has ever seen the 1956 epic, The Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston, has at least a sense of what formed the history of matzo ball soup.
Thousands of years ago, Hebrews in Canaan faced famine and were granted reprieve by an Egyptian pharaoh who welcomed them in his country. Father of the original settlers was Jacob who, with his twelve sons, put down roots in the land of Goshen.
The family grew and lived in relative harmony with native Egyptians until generations later when a new pharaoh felt the empire could be overthrown by the large number of Hebrews. He proceeded to enslave them and set them to work building two new cities, which would provide major food storage.
The Hebrews worked hard for the pharaoh for many years. Meanwhile, their numbers continued to grow. In another attempt to control the Egyptians and protect his kingdom, the pharaoh ordered the death of all newborn male babies. One such baby was saved when his mother set him afloat in a small boat on the Nile River. There he was found and adopted by the pharaoh's daughter.
As depicted in The Ten Commandments, Moses - that little baby - grew to be a man and led the Hebrews out of Egypt. In their haste to leave, the Hebrew people did not have sufficient time to let bread dough rise. They took the raw dough with them and baked it in the hot desert sun, probably laid out on rocks. This produced unleavened bread - a flat cracker-like product.
In celebration of this part of Jewish history, only unleavened bread may be eaten during Passover. In addition to eating the plain bread or crackers, called matzo, the unleavened bread may be ground into a coarse or fine "meal" which is then substituted for flour in Passover cooking. Combining the meal with water, eggs and seasonings produces matzo balls, a type of dumpling cooked in soup.
Jewish religion calls for eating kosher foods during Passover. Kosher forbids the mixing of milk and meat, so chicken fat, vegetable oil or margarine may be used but no milk. Stock and seasonings are added to improve the otherwise bland taste of Matzo. Seltzer or baking powder can give the bread a bit of fluffiness. The soup itself is usually a chicken stock with several vegetables.
They came from Canaan to Egypt and finally out into the desert sun where unleavened bread fed the hungry masses. Eventually ground into meal and mixed with other ingredients, the matzo became matzo balls.
The history of matzo ball soup concludes with the dropping of the matzo balls into a broth and feeding a Jewish family still celebrating a remarkable history spanning thousands of years.