Some more of Jewish Food History Trivia before The High Holidays

It is always fun for me to flip through my cookbooks before a major Holiday. I love to look for stories behind the recipes, origins of foods we eat and their transitions throughout times and continents.
Here, I am just going to post some fun facts about my favourite foods:
First mentioned in Exodus 3:8 – אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ – as honey (דְבָשׁ) – dates have been valued for its syrup and are counted as seven species of the Land of Israel.
Horrendously, today if you Google an image of Israeli dates, you will get returns with slogans produces by BDS movement. Truthfully, even if you don’t seek out politics, it will come to you anyway.
I love dates! I love fresh dates on Rosh haShana even though most of the people don’t like them. I feel like dates can be eaten anytime, and put in any food or cake to enhance the flavour. Moreover, lately, I developed a habit of making a lemonade with silan – סילאן – date honey called this way in modern Hebrew:
For a pitcher of filtered water
Add half a lemon cut up into rounds and lightly squeezed
A few sprigs of mint (speaking of mint, it is also one of the oldest herbs known and eaten in the Land of Israel circa 0 CE)
A drop or two of silan
You can add just a bit of raw shredded fresh ginger
Store in the refrigerator, and enjoy the healthy, easy, delicious drink.
The next favourite of mine coming from the Land and the Bible is a fig – תְאֵנָה, mentioned in Devarim 8:8. Figs are, supposedly, almost 5000 years old and were eaten in the region way before the children of Israel came to possess the land as Gd’s gift to them. Fig cakes (pressed together for better storage and transportation figs ) are mentioned in Samuel I – 25:18, when Abigail, the wife of a stubborn and greedy Nabal, ran to save her household from David, her future king, and husband:

יח  וַתְּמַהֵר אבוגיל (אֲבִיגַיִל) וַתִּקַּח מָאתַיִם לֶחֶם וּשְׁנַיִם נִבְלֵי-יַיִן, וְחָמֵשׁ צֹאן עשוות (עֲשׂוּיוֹת) וְחָמֵשׁ סְאִים קָלִי, וּמֵאָה צִמֻּקִים, וּמָאתַיִם דְּבֵלִים; וַתָּשֶׂם, עַל-הַחֲמֹרִים.

Then Abigail made haste and took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched corn, and a hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on asses.

I love eating figs raw. Unfortunately, this is pretty much impossible in New York, the figs never get so ripe as they should be here, and they lack flavour. figs.jpgSo, if I am in Israel in fig season, I buy then at the shuk and eat them right away with slightly salted cheese.

I have made one of my favourite fig dishes here – stuffed figs with cheese and sweet wine. I don’t have a recipe, I just make it from whatever I have and am in the mood for, but here is a nice one from Tory Avey. I also love using dried figs with all kinds of lamb dishes. A piece or two cut up in small pieces goes a long way.
This is a great one! The fruit mentioned in the Torah not only for its edible characteristics but as a part of the holiday garb of the Cohen Gadol himself!

לג  וְעָשִׂיתָ עַל-שׁוּלָיו, רִמֹּנֵי תְּכֵלֶת וְאַרְגָּמָן וְתוֹלַעַת שָׁנִי–עַל-שׁוּלָיו, סָבִיב; וּפַעֲמֹנֵי זָהָב בְּתוֹכָם, סָבִיב

לד  פַּעֲמֹן זָהָב וְרִמּוֹן, פַּעֲמֹן זָהָב וְרִמּוֹן, עַל-שׁוּלֵי הַמְּעִיל, סָבִיב

33 And upon the skirts of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the skirts thereof; and bells of gold between them round about:
34 a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the skirts of the robe round about.
Apart from its well known today health benefits, pomegranate in Judaism represents righteousness. It is said to have 613 seeds, which corresponds with the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. Precisely for this reason, it is customary to eat pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah.
Pine nuts:
Although we are not eating them specifically for the holidays, people have been eating pine nuts since the Stone Age.
Roman soldiers took them as campaign food when they raided Britain over 2000 years ago. And Greek authors mentioned pine nut trees as food producers as early as 300 BCE. Many scholars believe that the prophet Hosea was talking about pine nuts, which means that they were eaten in the Land of Israel along with other simple, but satisfying food after a long day work in the field.
Pine nuts can be used in anything! Just roast them slightly and add them to any salad, roasted vegetables, or dessert, and you will be pleased with the end result. The only drawback I see is their prohibitive cost here, in the US. However, if you want to impress your guests – so use them.
Another beautiful nut variety that can be added to virtually any dish. Mentioned in the Bible as one of the fruits of the land that Yaakov (Jacob), our pra-father tells his children to bring with them to Egypt, when they are going to buy grain:

יא  וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲבִיהֶם, אִם-כֵּן אֵפוֹא זֹאת עֲשׂוּ–קְחוּ מִזִּמְרַת הָאָרֶץ בִּכְלֵיכֶם, וְהוֹרִידוּ לָאִישׁ מִנְחָה:  מְעַט צֳרִי, וּמְעַט דְּבַשׁ, נְכֹאת וָלֹט, בָּטְנִים וּשְׁקֵדִים.

11 And their father Israel said unto them: ‘If it be so now, do this: take of the choice fruits of the land in your vessels, and carry down the man a present, a little balm, and a little honey, spicery and ladanum, pistachio nuts, and almonds’

That was even before Israelites settled the land! Long history.

Syrian Jews have use pistachios in many of their wonderful dishes. When I read “Aromas of Aleppo”, I can’t help but return to politics again – I am thinking of a people gone, not able to come back home ever, of a history and archaeological marvels totally wiped out. img_33721I feel for families of Poopa Dweck, the author of this wonderful history cookbook, and others. Even though I know they are better off than many of us here, the sense of permanent loss must really be profound.
So, to make my daughter, who gave me “Aromas” for my birthday last year I decided to me Poopa’s dessert with coconut and pistachios, but of course, I added my own Ashkenazi twist. Not sure, she would approve, but I added some nice red currants to the recipe that’s in the book, and a little more lemon that it called for.
In a nutshell: you need to take some coconut meal and boil it with sugar, some water, a drop or two of orange blossom water, and lemon juice. Red img_33731currants optional 🙂
Once the mixture simmers for about 10 minutes, add pistachios, mix well, and put into serving bowls. Cool, and enjoy! I decided on very small individual serving dishes, as the dessert is on the sweet side.
However, this is what we want, no?
A sweet, healthy, and happy New Year to all!


8 Comments Add yours

  1. Great posts, lost of fascinating information. So I gather that you are on the “Yes-to-nuts-on-Yom-Tov” side of the great Nissim debate – so am I! Love your recipes and will try, b’Mizrat H-shem.

    Liked by 1 person

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