Clueless in Chometz – Preparing for Pesach

This will be my 35th Pesach, having been married 34 years and making my first Pesach one month later. Yet every March I feel like a new bride who never made Pesach before. The thought of scrubbing down my refrigerator and moving the beds upstairs makes me queasy. At 53 I simply don’t have the kochos, the strength, that I had twenty-five years ago to do the job by myself. Pesach programs at hotels are simply out of my financial range, plus family members look forward all year to coming to Bubby & Zayde’s house (that’s me and my husband) for the chag. And what would the Seder be like without cute grandchildren to say the Mah Nishtanah? Luckily nowadays I have adult children who can volunteer their own elbow grease to the project, plus enough funds this year to hire a cleaning service to help.

Still Pesach can be daunting, especially for Baalei Teshuvah and Geirim who have never seen a house get ready for Pesach before. There may be some comfort knowing that there are FFB’s who have never made Pesach either, having gone every year to their parents or their inlaws for the entire eight days. These FFB’s now facing a first Pesach at home are as clueless about where to start with the whole Pesach process as the newest BT or Geir.

I have learned the hard wary to prioritize the time before Pesach. Don’t go crazy and spend three days scrubbing toys. What’s most important is of course thoroughly cleaning and kashering the kitchen for Pesach. Rabbi Shimon Eider zatzal had a series of books on getting ready for Pesach, which have been collected into one or two hardcover volumes. Basically the best timesaver is to buy new for Pesach, which most people do rather than spend time before Pesach kashering silverware in a large vat of bubbling hot water (some communities such as Baltimore make this available as a service for the entire community).

My dream is to one day have a Pesach kitchen in my home. No it does not have to be a designer kitchen 50K Architectural Digest spectacular, it could just be one corner of my living/dining area set aside for a separate fridge, dedicated Pesach freestanding cabinet and an electric stove (I’m not sure what I would do about a sink, though, needing water pipes). Not having a separate Pesach kitchen, the turnover of the chometzdike kitchen is difficult. I (and whatever sons and their teenage muscled friends I can round up) generally accomplish this by taking all chometzdike pots and implements out of the shelves and cabinets, boxing them and storing them in the attic, until the kitchen is completely empty. Then we scrub down completely the entire kitchen, every inch of the counters and the shelves. We move the stove and the fridge and wash the floors. Hopefully this year the cleaning service will do that for us, but we still will have to empty out, put into boxes and store away in the attic all of the chometzdike dishes and pots. Of course, other people who are more sane don’t empty out the entire kitchen: they store the chometzdike dishes and pots into cabinets that are roped off or taped shut with “CHOMETZ” labels during Pesach. Last year, my sons loaded up the dishwasher (not used at all by us during Pesach) with the chometzdike pots and pans, plus they taped shut the lower cabinets under the sink, so that I did not have to schlep everything into the attic (this made the after-Pesach recovery period a little easier also, less stuff to bring back down from the attic).

Once all of the chometzdike utensils are put away, we then have to cut and tape down shelving paper on all of the clean shelves (I detest this part but sons and I have to do it). We scrub the stove top completely with St Moritz or soft scrub or whatever does the job of cleaning without removing the enamel. Then we load up the oven with the top of stove burners and grates, plus all wire racks, and turn the oven to two cycles of three-hour self clean. Not all rabbonim approve of self-cleaning an oven to use it for Pesach, check with your own Poseik. This works for a gas oven, I do not know if it works for an electric oven or a continuous cleaning oven, again check with your own Poseik or local Orthodox rabbi. I would also suggest disabling your smoke or heat alarm before “gleein der kecht,” as burning out the oven is known in Yiddish. We once got some very unhappy firefighters at our door, complete with the firetruck and all firefighting gear, since our alarm sensed the heat of the self cleaning oven and automatically phoned the fire department. Once the stove has been kashered through self-cleaning we cover everything with extra heavy duty foil, allowing room for ventilation and for the dials (which we replace with Pesachdike dials but you could just cover with foil) and for seeing and pressing the oven controls on the hood (using a piece of clear plastic as sort of an insert in the foil for where we have to see and press buttons). The oven door is also carefully and completely covered with extra heavy duty foil.

When the stove is clean I boil a full Pesach kettle of water. This leads to some interesting discussion about “what goes first.” (The sink must be kashered by using boiling water, but the water being put into the Pesach kettle is from the chometzdike sink. I generally resolve this by filling the Pesach kettle from the bathroom or laundry room sink). The kettle of boiling water is for kashering the metal sink and around the base of the faucet. The kettle is wielded like a paintbrush, I or an adult son move the kettle of boiling water across the sink, hitting every spot of the metal sink with the pour of the poured stream of boiling water. The arm of the faucet being plastic rather than metal can’t be kashered for Pesach this way so I wrap it with heavy aluminum foil. An enamel or porcelain (white) sink cannot be kashered like a metal sink, most rabbonim recommend using a special sink insert. I hate sink inserts like a passion, because all of the junk and food scraps and grease yecch collects in the dirty water under the insert and floods the sink then you have to pick up the insert and clean underneath it, once again yecch. Also with a kashered sink I do not have to worry if the Pesach forks clatter into the sink, no problem.

The counters are thoroughly cleaned and then covered. Variety stores in Jewish neighborhoods sell cuttable plastic sheets and washable Contact paper for countertops, or there is the old fallback, heavy duty aluminum foil. The dining table is scrubbed and then covered. I generally cover it with a large rectangle of cardboard, then I tape down a large size rectangle of heavy plastic over the cardboard, covering the table surface completely. Over that I throw another plastic tablecloth, then goes the cloth Pesach tablecloth, with another plastic tablecloth on top (the last is actually more to protect the cloth tablecloth from grape juice stains than for Pesach kashrus). The chairs are scrubbed (we have plastic not wooden chairs; wooden chairs should be cleaned with wood cleaner and checked for any obvious places where crumbs might have gotten caught).

The fridge is not kashered but simply scrubbed out. I use pieces of cardboard to line the bottom of the fridge because sometimes I store Pesach pots of cooked food when cooled down right into the refrigerator. I don’t like covering the wire racks because then air cannot circulate throughout the fridge. If you do cover the refrigerator racks for Pesach, be sure to punch enough ventilation holes in the foil or plastic rack covers or your fridge will not keep cold properly.

I do not use my microwave for Pesach, as it cannot be kashered. It is too large to pack away, so I wrap it into a black plastic garbage bag and tape it up securely, it continues to sit on top of my refrigerator but is neither seen nor accessed during the eight days. It is not sold to the non-Jew with the chometz. I also do not use my dishwasher, which is taped up securely so it will not turn on accidentally, and sealed with chometzdike dishes inside. I do use my china cabinet for the Pesach china and the gleaming Seder plate and the Kos Eliyahu, so I have to clean it thoroughly and line the shelves with taped down shelving paper. Because I plop boxes of matzos on top of the china cabinet, I even have to clean the top (I don’t scrub it, though). I move the china cabinet to sweep underneath just in case a stray slice of challah is sitting there.

While the kitchen is being turned over, the house is an absolute mess. I have always envied those fantastic housewives who can get ready for Pesach without a fork out of place. During the two or three days we are in-between still Chometzdike and wholly Pesachdike, we rely on that old standby, eating out at the pizza place or the shwarma place. Sometimes we rely on the outdoor picnic table. The takeout pizzas and chometz occupy the picnic table outside, so we dine alfresco until the kitchen is ready.

This year presents a challenge of making Shabbos two days before Sunday night’s Bedikas Chometz and three days before the Seder night on Monday night. We plan on turning over the kitchen to Pesachdike before Shabbos and making a “neutral” Shabbos (food cooked in Pesachdike pots, the kitchen and dining area all ready for Pesach, throwaway foam plates with plastic forks and knives, a Pesach stew rather than ordinary Chometzdike barley and bean cholent for Shabbos lunch, challah or some other less crumbly lechem served at the outside picnic table rather than in the cleaned dining area). This way I can cook and bake for Pesach on Motzaei Shabbos, all day Sunday and Monday if the kitchen is all ready before Erev Shabbos.

For my Pesach shopping, I work from a “master list” that I put away from year to year (not in an inaccessible spot, but rather where I can access it before Pesach when I do the shopping). The list is flexible to accommodate more or fewer people spending the chag with us. It’s sort of funny to compare with an ordinary shopping list, you might ask if the Israeli Army is joining us: fifteen dozen eggs, fifty pounds of potatoes, twenty pounds of onions, twenty pounds of apples….The expense is no joke, however. I find it more helpful and affordable to split the Pesach shopping into three sections: the nonperishable canned and boxed goods, such as tomato sauce, potato starch and bags of sugar, to buy two weeks ahead; then the meats, fish, frozen food, vegetables, fruit and eggs, to purchase one week ahead (when the refrigerator and freezer are cleaned and ready); finally, right before Erev Pesach, the most perishable items, such as fresh milk, bags of green salad, yogurts, cottage cheese and sour cream. Pesach shopping really “breaks the bank.” You can keep expenses down if you forego those exotic processed items like Pesach pizza in favor of fresh vegetables and fruits (or potatoes and eggs, more potatoes and eggs). Sometimes it is possible to order matzos and wine and grape juice from an Orthodox shul, it helps raise money for the shul and can be cheaper than retail at your local supermarket or kosher grocery. Those Pesach booklets that come out every year are good for references to medicine and other products for Pesach (it may not be necessary to buy that inferior and overpriced Pesach toothpaste if a cheaper national brand is acceptable for Pesach).

Good luck to everyone, a Chag Kasher v’Sameyach to all at Beyond BT (and to all two good and fulfilling and meaningful Seder Nights).

8 comments on “Clueless in Chometz – Preparing for Pesach

  1. My husband always cleaned the oven for Pesach, but last year he was away until hours before the holiday. So I had to do it. I hate using poison, so I looked up “natural oven cleaner” on google and got lots of ideas. The one I used worked great: 1 T of baking soda on the stain, and 1T of vinegar on that. Wait at least an hour, then clean. Safe and effective!

  2. To Orthonomics #5: You are correct, some microwave ovens can be Kashered for Pesach. Unfortunately, mine can’t. So we just pack it away. This does leave the option of buying a cheap microwave oven just for Pesach if one really has the need for it for the Pesach preparations or for Chol HaMoed meals.

  3. I do not use my microwave for Pesach, as it cannot be kashered.

    I believe that some authorities do allow microwaves to be kashered. Naturally, we should all follow our own Rabbis.

  4. Preventative measures for those without self-cleaning ovens:

    If you can put the cookware/bakeware you are using on top of an even larger cookie sheet, do so all year.

    I started this practice and my oven cleaning took only minutes. I also don’t cook meat openly in my oven, which helps a lot too. Dairy doesn’t splatter the way meat and chicken do.

  5. R N Willig has stated that a self cleaning oven is not only permissible to use after it has been run through the self cleaning cycle, but is a great investment in Shalom Bayis!

  6. St. Moritz and imported cleaning products like it are highly caustic and dangerous. Nearly every year there are tragic reports of accidents and horrifying injuries to adults and children.

    Less potent products do the oven cleaning, etc., with far less risk. Newer forms of Easy-Off are less hazardous, for example.

    Those who use the blowtorch approach should know that some ovens have thin sheet metal inside that an amateurishly used torch could damage.

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