1 medium onion, chopped or grated
1 tsp. salt
Matzo or cracker meal
4 tablespoons chicken fat, melted
Beat eggs until light and foamy. Add other ingredients. Enough meal should be added so a loose dough is formed. Put in refrigerator to chill. The dough will become stiffer when cold. Form into balls the size of a walnut and drop into boiling chicken soup. Cover and let cook 15 minutes. Serve with soup or as a meat garnish.
This recipe came from the Friendship Club Cookbook, printed in 1951. At the time, segregation was standard practice throughout the country. The Friendship Club was an interracial women’s social club founded in 1949 by Madison women who “felt that in developing mutual understanding among themselves, they were answering a most grave result of segregation — ignorance.” Club members represented a range of racial, national, religious, and economic backgrounds. They hosted a variety of informal social gatherings (many of which featured food from their respective backgrounds) with the aim of getting to know and appreciate one another better. The book’s introduction states: “This little book is a token of our friendship and faith in each other and in all people.”
Disclaimer: Although the cookbook is part of the UW–Madison archives, I haven’t found any record of the Friendship Club as a student organization, so it’s unclear whether it was unaffiliated with the UW or if its members just never gained official recognition. Either way, it’s likely that UW students of the time would have eaten similar dishes either at home or on campus.
I’ve made my fair share of kneidlach (matzo balls) before, but never with onion or schmaltz (chicken fat). Although schmaltz is no longer as widely used as it was in the 1950s, it has been regaining popularity over the past several years as younger generations rediscover it. Even so, it was a little tricky to source here in Madison. I found some at a local butcher shop — and, in a distracted haze, almost accidentally stole it. (Disaster was averted when I pushed open the door of the shop to leave and saw the tub of fat in my hand, then ran back inside to pay amid much laughter from the butcher.) If you’d rather skip the schmaltz, you can use an equal amount of vegetable oil instead. I would not recommend swapping it out for butter or shortening, as those fats have very different consistencies compared to schmaltz.
The recipe doesn’t specify how much matzo meal to use, so I added in a little at a time until I got the consistency I’m familiar with. It came to half a cup.
Tip: use a bigger pot than you think you’ll need. Kneidlach grow as they absorb the broth they’re cooking in.
If you’ve ever eaten kneidlach, you know there are “floaters” and there are “sinkers,” and people tend to have very strong preferences. These kneidlach are fluffy floaters, which suits my liking and didn’t surprise me given the amount of air beaten into the eggs. They’re much more flavorful than the kneidlach I’ve made in the past, which also didn’t surprise me given that they were made with more flavorful ingredients. What did surprise me was how well the flavors played together and how much yumminess the kneidlach transferred back to the broth they were cooked in, improving the entire dish.
Overall, the flavor is much more interesting and nuanced than the versions I’ve made before: a delicate balance between the onion, chicken, and matzo, in which the ingredients complement each other without overpowering. The dish is warm, comforting, and just salty enough — perfect for students yearning for a pillowy taste of home. I’m glad the schmaltz came in such a big tub because I’m definitely going to be making this again. Kol hakavod, cooks of 1951!