With a year-round cycle of major and minor holidays, Jewish people have plenty of opportunities to count their blessings and be thankful. After all, we’re lucky enough to celebrate at least one festive occasion in every season, including Rosh Hashanah in the fall, Hanukkah in the winter, Passover in the Spring, and Tu B’Av (like a Jewish Valentine’s Day) in the summer. Plus, with all the religious traditions and rituals in between, from Sukkot to Shavuot, we always have a holy excuse to go off our diets. That’s right, the symbolic Jewish calendar is filled with reasons to party and nosh on foods that are as mouthwatering as they are meaningful. For example, the New Year kicks off with traditional favorites like apple noodle kugel, followed by creamy blintze souffl é when we break the fast. After that, we look forward to latkes when we light the menorah, prune hamantaschen when we shake the gragger, charoset when we join a seder, and brisket soaked in lots of onions and savory juices whenever we get the chance. Throughout the year, we also savor every bowl of matzah ball soup, whether our family’s recipe makes the Jewish dumplings light and fluffy or hard as a rock. The matzah ball has got to be the ultimate comfort food, not counting bagels and creamed cheese, of course.
Rosh Hashanah, which literally means “Head of the Year,” sets the precedent for Jewish cuisine at its finest. With the first blast of the shofar, Rosh Hashanah announces a New Year and the birthday of our world, which means we get to have our honey cake and eat it, too. It’s a mitzvah — a commandment and a wonderful Jewish tradition — to begin Rosh Hashanah with a special meal that tastes like a traditional five-course Shabbat dinner, only sweeter. I realize this is a stretch, but ever since Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, the apple has never lost its appeal and remains a key ingredient. At Rosh Hashanah, which begins on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, children and adults dip apples in honey. The fresh apple represents renewal; the natural honey symbolizes a sweet and prosperous New Year. The Jews have a blessing for everything, including fruit, which is Borei Pri HaEtz, followed by the words “Yehi Ratzon…shetehadesh allenyu shanah tovah umetukah, ” which means “May it be Your will to renew for us a good and sweet year. “
At Yom Kippur, the apple serves yet another purpose for those who observe the fast. Ask your child to poke whole cloves into an apple–they can make a pattern if they wish–and bring the fruit with you to synagogue to ward off feelings of faintness. Whenever you feel a hunger pang, sniff the fragrant spice and see what happen.
Everything tastes sweeter at Rosh Hashanah–even the round challah when it’s sprinkled with chewy raisins and dipped in honey. Unlike the rest of the year, the crown-like shape symbolizes the cycle of the year and God’s kingship over the people of Israel. The cyclical shape also represents wholeness and our desire for a well-rounded and complete New Year.
At this time of year, I get into my Martha Stewart mode and dig out old and new apple recipes, from cakes and casseroles to salads and salsas. On a crisp, autumn day, one of my favorite family outings is apple picking at a local orchard. If the bees don’t chase us away first, we load our baskets with juicy apples that we sample along the way. Back home, I arrange a variety (Granny Smith, Mackintosh, Red and Golden Delicious) in a bowl for a colorful kitchen table centerpiece. By the time we share the crop with family and neighbors, the fruit disappears in a hurry. But before that happens, I cook my own applesauce with a pinch of cinnamon.
Sari eats apples and honey year round, so we like to concoct something extra special at Rosh Hashanah. Together, we dip the tart apples in melted caramel and then roll them in pecans or candies that we crush ahead of time with a rolling pin. We like to use mini M &Ms, toffee pieces, and chocolate chips. I let the apples cool on a cookie sheet or pan that I line with waxed paper and grease with cooking spray.
On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, it’s customary to try a fruit that we’ve never eaten before, such as a kiwano melon, prickly pear, or even a coconut. Of course, the pomegranate is a popular biblical fruit that is eaten on this holiday also. The deep pink fruit symbolizes fertility and prosperity because of its numerous seeds–613 inside each one, in fact, to correspond with the 613 mitzvot incumbent upon each Jew. By the way, the prayer over the pomegranate (rimon) seeds is, “May our merits multiply like pomegranate seeds. “
Apple recipes are easy to come by, but here’s a couple of my Rosh Hashanah favorites, including a colossal cake that could fill the belly of the biblical whale that swallowed Jonah.
Apple Raisin Koogle
12 oz. Bag of noodles, cooked and drained
3 eggs beaten
4 T sugar
_t t. cinnamon (or more)
1 _ c. grated apple (I like tart)
_ c. white rains
4 T melted butter
Boil and drain noodles. In bowl, combine eggs, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Set aside. Add apples, raisins and melted butter to cooked noodles. Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Place in large, well-greased casserole. Bake at 350, 45 minutes.
Pineapple Applesauce Cake
STEP ONE: In large bowl, mix following three ingredients for 15 minutes:
1 c. oil
3 c. sugar
STEP TWO: Sift dry ingredients in separate bowl:
2 T baking soda
2 T cinnamon
6 c. flour
STEP THREE: Pour liquid ingredients in separate bowl:
1 large can unsweetened applesauce
1 can crushed pineapple (2 _ cup size can)
_ c. water
2 T vanilla
Alternate dry ingredients in STEP TWO and liquid ingredients in STEP THREE into the mixture of STEP ONE. Pour into greased 24-cup gelatin ring mold. Let stand in pan for a few minutes. Bake at 350, for 60-70 minutes.