Tu B’Shevat begins at sunset this Friday. The holiday marks the beginning of the growing season, the New Year of trees. The Kabbalists take a mystical approach to the holiday, teaching that fruit-bearing trees are a manifestation of all that is holy, thereby creating both a spiritual and physical connection to God. As far back as the 1500s, Jews celebrated this connectedness through Tu B’Shevat seders.
The word “seder” means order, and Tu B’Shevat seders are linked to the natural order of the seasons. Participants drink four cups of wine in the following order: white wine, symbolic of winter; white wine with a few drops of red wine to mark the beginning of spring; white wine with a more even mixture of red wine to signify the summer months; and red wine alone, which denotes the bountiful fall harvest. Before drinking the wine, the traditional blessing over the fruit of the vine is recited.
The fruits eaten at a Kabbalistic seder fall into three categories and must be eaten in this order: fruits that are hard on the outside and soft on the inside, such as nuts or bananas; fruits that are soft on the outside and hard on the inside, such peaches or dates; and fruits whose shells and insides are entirely edible, such as figs or blueberries. There is a fourth fruit as well, but it is intangible and exists only in spirit.
I spoke with Chaim Possick, Israeli Shiliach with Torah Mitzion Kollel, who told me about the congregation’s collaborative seder with Bais Abraham.
“Our seder focuses on Israel,” he said, “and the relationship of the holy land to the seven fruits mentioned in a verse in Deuteronomy. Those seven fruits are: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. Our evening includes singing and dancing and a festive community Shabbat dinner.”
While all seders follow a specified order, many congregations have adopted their own traditions. Marian Rosen, an educator at Central Reform Congregation, said that she asks seder participants to plant parsley seeds in a cup. The seeds, if properly cared for, will produce enough parsley to stand in as the bitter herbs at the Passover seder.
“Every year our classes raise money to plant trees in Israel in a courtyard outside of our partner school in Yokne’am Illit,” explained Ellen Polsky, Temple Emanuel’s Education Director. “One year the trees must have been more mature because on the next Tu B’Shevat, the school sent us a small jewelry box containing five almonds, the entire yield of our trees,” she said. “The children were amazed and delighted with those almonds and, though we were not permitted to eat them (we can eat only the fruit that comes from trees that are more than three years old) we passed them around at our seder. Through this experience, our students learned the importance of caring for the environment, an awareness of nature through God, and the connection to our homeland. “
At Central Reform Congregation, Rabbi Randy Fleisher encourages seder discussion on environmental responsibility. He talks of a variety of mystical teachings having to do with the connection of the trees to God and the way trees impact us.
As someone who is passionate about food and where it comes from, I am satisfied on so many levels by a Tu B’Shevat seder. The seder connects us to nature and beckons our appreciation of, and gratitude for, its bounty. It reminds us that we can’t take anything for granted, neither the land nor the trees that flourish on it.
The seder piques our senses. It directs us to take time to smell, touch, and taste the essence of each fruit and to think about its source. We can focus on the magnificence of a single fruit, for example a fig, to observe its frosty smooth edible skin, to breathe in its earthy scent, and to bite into it and savor its sweet nectarous flesh. And this is just one among scores of amazing fruits.
If you’d like to take part in a Tu B’Shevat seder, check with your synagogue or temple. The seders at Central Reform and Bais Abraham are open to everyone in the community. If you would prefer to host your own, Tu B’Shevat Haggadahs are available for download online at: lovemarks.org/GanEdenTu%20bshevatsederpdf.pdf, or support.jnf.org/docs/JFEnvironment alHaggadahDecember08.pdf.
In the spirit of Tu B’Shevat, I offer my favorite recipe for homemade granola. The granola is delicious served over any fresh, cut-up fruit and topped with a dollop of yogurt.
Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of two. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is currently working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected]
Fruit, Nut and Seed Granola
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Mix together in a large bowl and set aside:
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/3 cup hulled green pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup roasted, lightly salted peanuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix together in a small saucepan over medium heat:
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
5 tablespoons honey (or 2 tbsp. honey plus 3 tbsp. agave syrup)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 1/2-2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Pour butter mixture over oat mixture, toss to combine, and spread onto a foil lined baking sheet with sides. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes, stirring mixture after 8 minutes.
Place pan on cooling rack and mix in the following:
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup dried snipped apricots
1/3 cup dried blueberries
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup broken dried bananas chips
Granola may be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks or frozen for up to 1 month.
Makes 6-7 cups.