Latkes (less frequently spelled “latkas") are simply potato pancakes. Latkes are traditionally served for the Jewish holidays of Hanukkah and also Purim, although they can be served at any time. Applesauce often is served with latkes.
The origin of “latkes” is undoubtedly from Central Europe; they became popular in New York City and then throughout America from about 1910.
Wikipedia: Potato pancakes
Potato pancakes, also known as latkes or latkas (Yiddish: לאַטקעס), are shallow-fried pancakes of grated potato and egg, often flavored with grated onion. Potato pancakes may be topped with a variety of condiments, ranging from the savory (such as sour cream) to the sweet (such as applesauce or sugar), or they may be served ungarnished. Potato pancakes are commonly associated with traditional Jewish and Polish cuisine.
3/4 cup bread crumbs (dry)
2 1/2 cups potatoes (grated, and squeezed dry)
1 small onion (grated)
1 egg (beaten)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
dash of pepper
Instructions: Mix all ingredients until well blended. Drop batter by tablespoonfuls onto hot, greased skillet. Spread the batter and brown pancakes on both sides. Serve hot.
Latkes are traditionally eaten during the Jewish Hanukkah festival. The custom probably came from a preference for fried food to celebrate the miracle involving olive oil in the Second Temple of ancient Israel.
Main Entry: lat·ke
Etymology: Yiddish, pancake, from Ukrainian oladka
: potato pancake
(Oxford English Dictionary)
Yiddish, a. Russ. látka a pastry.]
In Jewish cookery, a pancake, esp. one made with grated potato.
1927 Amer. Mercury Feb. 206 Luscious potato latkespancakes made of grated, raw potatoes, [etc.].
1958 J. GROSSINGER Art Jewish Cookery p. ix, A Jewish cookbook can be almost considered a history book… Just one instancethe latke (pancake), which the wives of the soldiers of..Judah Maccabee hurriedly cooked for their men.
1964 W. MARKFIELD To Early Grave (1965) iii. 50, I make a few latkes, I paint the kitchen chairs.
1967 A. BAILEY in L. Deighton London Dossier 55 If you hunger after gefillte fish or latkes when in Soho, try Grahame’s Sea Fare restaurant.
1971 M. MASSON Jewish Cookery 44 Fry the latkes until a golden brown on both sides.
1974 Times 15 Oct. 13/8 He really does need a few more of my potato lutkas.
22 December 1916, The Jewish Child, pg. 4 (it reads page 2, but it follows page 3):
A CHANUKAH DREIDLE
“When I was a little boy in Russia,” began Grandpa, just as she was hoping he would, “we didn’t have such toy menorahs. The Chanukah toy we played with was the ‘dreidle,’ which is a kind of top.”
(Long, four-paragraph explanation follows—ed.)
Out would come our “dreidlach"--and the candy and fruit and pieces of honeycake we had brought from home or else bought (Col. 3—ed.) for our “Chanukah gelt”!
He would have to threaten that we should have no Chanukah “latkes” at supper before we could really manage to control ourselves and behave nicely. No one wanted to miss the “latkes”!
A Chance to Live
by Zoe Beckley
New York, NY: The Macmillan Company
Her heart yearned toward this neighbor who had so often in prosperous times made little gifts of Passover wine, or maybe a plate of fresh-cooked “latkes” or “egg matsoths” for the children of the ”goyim“ upstairs!
The Rise of the Goldbergs
by Gertrude Berg
New York, NY: Barse and Company
("The Goldbergs” went on the air on NBC radio on November 20, 1929. It was very popular, and this is the book version. There is no glossary, but words are explained in footnotes—ed.)
“Vhen de latkes* get cold dey ain’t got no taste.”
27 April 1933, Huntingdon (PA) Daily News, pg. 7, col. 6:
Central European Style
For potato latkes, grate four good-sized potatoes and drain off the excess water. Ad two eggs, one teaspoon of salt, one-half cup flour sifted with one teaspoon of baking powder. Stir well until the batter is smooth and will pour easily. Grease a griddle and drop the batter by spoonfuls on the hot iron. Fry as you would any pancake.