Holiday foods are not eaten just because they taste good or are available at that season. They are carefully chosen as reminders of something we are to think about or do during our celebration.
Special foods are eaten during Rosh Hashanah to symbolize our hopes and wishes for the new Jewish year, and how we must behave in order for these good things to happen. At the beginning of the season, we usually wish for good luck, prosperity, sweetness and happiness.
So what can we eat that will lead us to these things? Check out how the classic combination of apples and honey may help:
As the story goes, when Isaac gave Jacob the blessing of the first-born, he commented, "See, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which God has blessed." He then continued to bless him with wealth and power. This event is thought to have happened on Rosh Hashanah.
According to Jewish commentators, the "field which God has blessed" referred to an apple orchard, and the smell of that orchard reflects the smell of the Garden of Eden. Eating apples at Rosh Hashanah reminds us of Isaac's blessing and the Garden of Eden, on the day we, too, want to be blessed and think about a more perfect world.
Honey from bees is the only food (other than milk) humans consume that animals make to feed their young. This connection with nourishment gives it special meaning at Rosh Hashanah, as we feed our hearts and souls for a sweet new year.
Honey is also used to describe the attributes of the land of Israel as "flowing with milk and honey," symbolizing abundance and the growth of the Jewish people. So, apples and honey are at least two key ingredients in starting off the year right.
What can you eat to make you more prosperous? A much-loved dish is honeyed carrots. When the carrots are sliced into circles and cooked, they look like gold coins in color and shape, which suggests a thriving year ahead.
To be more successful, you can also eat the head of a fish, so that you will come in "a-head" in 5766 – and not at the tail. Sephardic Jews eat pumpkin, leeks, beets, pomegranates and dates because these foods grow rapidly, and are considered symbolic of wealth and abundance.
Here are some recipes using the special ingredients of the holiday. Making and eating these foods may remind us to keep the traditions of our people, which will bless us and all peoples of the world with a sweet, peaceful year. These recipes are intended for children to enjoy and prepare, with adult supervision.
2 lbs. baking apples
1 cup honey, warmed
1/4 cup orange juice
2 Tbsps. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Wash, dry and core the apples.
Cut them into quarters and place them in a baking dish, large enough to fit all the apples.
Mix the honey, orange and lemon juices, and nutmeg in a separate bowl. Pour the liquid mixture over the apple slices.
Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes, basting a few times during the baking.
Jesse's Grandma's Poppyseed Cookies
4 cups flour
11/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
11/2 cups pareve margarine, softened
1 tsp. vanilla, plus water, to make 2 Tbsps. of liquid
1/3 cup poppyseeds
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Grease two cookie sheets.
In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Beat in margarine with a mixer.
Beat in egg and water/vanilla mixture. Add poppyseeds; mix until evenly blended.
Roll dough into balls the size of a walnut. Place on prepared cookie sheets and press flat with the bottom of a glass.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly brown at the bottom.
Put on a rack to cool.
Makes 51/2 dozen cookies.
1/2 cup pareve margarine, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup honey
11/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Beat margarine, brown sugar, honey and egg in a medium bowl, scraping the sides to combine evenly. Stir in remaining ingredients.
Drop the dough by teaspoonsful onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake until set and light brown around the edges, 7 to 9 minutes (the surface of the cookies will appear shiny).
Let stand 5 minutes before removing from the cookie sheet.
Cool on a wire rack.
Makes 3 dozen cookies.
10 chocolate-chip cookies or 1/2 of a sleeve of graham crackers
2 cups confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup finely shredded coconut
1/2 cup peanut butter
11/4 sticks pareve margarine
1 oz. bag (12 oz.) of pareve semi-sweet chocolate chips
Pulse cookies or crackers in food processor for 30 seconds.
Add the sugar, ground almonds, sesame seeds, coconut, peanut butter and margarine. Process until blended.
Wet your hands and form walnut-sized balls. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Freeze for 1 hour or overnight.
Pour the chips into a microwave-safe dish; microwave for 2 minutes. Keep microwaving in 30 second intervals, and stir the chocolate until it is all melted.
Pour liquid chocolate in a tall glass and place in a bowl of hot tap water to keep the chocolate liquid and easy to work with.
Remove balls from freezer, and place a toothpick partway in, enough to pick up the ball.
Dip the ball into the melted chocolate, allowing excess to drip off before placing back on the tray.
When dry, store in a container with a tight fitting lid.
Makes 51/2 dozen.
Lorna Rosenberg is a cooking teacher and home chef in Elkins Park.