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There are as many varieties of potato latkes as there are Jewish cooks, each one a variation on the theme of oil and potatoes. With Hanukkah approaching, the tradition of cooking foods in oil is one to revisit, as it commemorates the miracle that occurred when Jews' one-day supply of oil lasted eight days.

It took Europeans centuries to embrace the potato. In the mid-19th century a crop failure in Russia created the impetus for farmers to plant large quantities of potatoes. They soon became a staple of Eastern European Jews.

Graters are primed for the first night of Hanukkah. I can still picture my grandmother, Granny Fanny, practically grating her knuckles as she worked frantically to prepare latkes for 16 grandchildren. Many cooks still prefer hand-grating potatoes even though a food processor can make the task fast and simple.

By Julie Riven, Boston Globe Correspondent

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