Matzah. Staple of the Jewish Passover dietary regimen. Square in shape. Flat in form. Taste of an unwieldy, unsalted, unseasoned, great big bloody dry cracker.

Matzah is an unleavened bread, baked up en masse for the first time when Jews had to skedaddle out of Egypt to get started on that 40 years of wandering through the desert--you may remember an episode involving the Red Sea and a guy in flowing robes who probably looked nothing at all like Charlton Heston. The bread is sometimes referred to by Jews as the 'bread of affliction,' an appellation based more on being chased around God's sand-filled, un-green Earth for a few generations than the bread's actual flavor.

The Jews were in such a hurry to get out (the Pharoah that let them go being of fickle mind) that they didn't even have time to let their bread rise, letting it bake on their shoulders in the sun as they moved. This they ate until they wound up in the Promised Land. Sometime later it was decided that the time spent and food eaten in the desert were so awful that it should be eaten again for one week every year for all eternity during Passover, thank you very much.

Modern matzah baking remains very much a race against the clock. The rabbis came to the conclusion that if any more than 18 minutes elapsed (the numerical value of chi, a symbol of high religious significance in Judaism--though this may be a coincidence), from when water met dough until bake-time, the risk of unacceptable rising was run. Hence, if you're making it in bulk, you have to move fairly quickly.

There is an additional role of honor for the hole-puncher, who stabs the dough so many times to ensure no air pockets exist that might cause untimely elevation.

Once mixed, kneaded, and stabbed, the matzah (or matzot, or matzoh, depending on which box you're reading) are cut to fit convenient square shaped boxes, a matzah fashion adjustment that just came into vogue during the last century. Originally, it was round. In any case, most of this process is automated, unless you're eating seriously kosher stuff, with which they don't mess around.

Matzah's symbolic value is maintained by the fact that it is indeed flavorless, dry, and unpleasant, much in the way that life was for Jewish people during the exodus. Passover makes a holiday of it, which produces in its celebrants the overwhelming desire to sink their teeth into anything else--just as their ancestors wished to do, praying to God until He supplied them with manna.

Nowadays,America being America, you can get matzah baked up with all sorts of nonsense--spiced, salted, garlicky, oniony, apple-cinnamon, even chocolate-coated, none of which really do anything to change the fact that at the end of the day, you're eating religiously sanctified somewhat edible cardboard.