It’s coming up on Tu B’Shvat, and for many, the holiday poses a dilemma. On the one hand, the kabbalistic roots of the holiday invite us to connect to the land of Israel through its food. Many of the symbolic foods at Tu B’Shvat seders are among the Seven Species of crops mentioned in Deuteronomy that have grown in the land of Israel since ancient times. Anyone who has bitten into a juicy pomegranate, or tasted perfect techina sauce, knows the experience of being transported to another world by food. (*Pop Quiz time: Seven Species include: Barley, Wheat, Pomegranates, Dates, Figs, Olives and Grapes).
And yet. Here we are, in the dead of winter, trying to eat locally (and wondering exactly what that means), live in harmony with the seasons, pay attention to the world around us. For many in the United States, Israel’s flora is decidedly exotic and not available at your local farmer’s market. What then are we to do?
We offer two suggestions. The first is to live it up. Buy those foods from far away and marvel at the technology that brought them to your plate. Celebrate the special treat pomegranates as the juice runs down your chin. It’s nice to have a rhythm to the year — going without certain foods most of the time means that some of the time, in fact, we should indulge, enjoy, celebrate.
Option two keeps us closer to home and lower on the carbon footprint: in many cases it is possible to source these special foods locally (or at least regionally) from sustainable producers. And if you do end up serving foods from farther away, see if there are dried versions available — they don’t have to be transported in refrigerated trucks, and are one of our oldest ways of preserving the bounty of the harvest all year round.
If you have other sources for the Seven Species, or your other favorite Tu B’Shvat foods, please share!
Wheat and Barley To feature sustainable grains during your Tu B’Shvat seder, look for a local grain. In the New York area, Cayuga Pure Organics offers a wide variety of organic, sustainably grown products. Down south, Great River Milling offers whole wheat, organic flours perfect for baking a Tu B’Shvat challah. Find others at Local Harvest. If no grains are grown in your area, look for organic wheat flour or barley from artisanal companies such as Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur Flour, which distribute nationally.
Grapes Grapes grow abundantly in many regions of this country…but not in February. Never fear! We’ve preserved our grape harvests in ingenious ways: raisins, jellies and of course, wine. Visit Hazon’s list of Kosher Organic Wines for sustainable options from around the country.
Figs and Dates Instead of offering fresh varieties of figs and pomegranates, opt for jam, jellied, or dried forms. If you can get your hands on some fresh figs, try preparing this “fig newton” recipe that is a healthier alternative to the store-bought version. For United States-grown dates, check out offerings from Sun Date, which are grown locally in California.
Pomegranates Usually associated with Rosh Hashana, these ruby red fruits can also be eaten at a Tu B’Shvat seder in the category of “fruit with an inedible outer shell.” Or enjoy them dried (available at Trader Joe’s); juiced, or have a Shirley Temple: grenadine syrup is made from pomegranates.
Olives Believe it or not, the peak of the olive season in the United States is during the winter! Olives are harvested from November to January in California. In California, The California Olive offers a wide variety of oils featured at local farmer’s markets. For a great, kosher olive oil and other olive products, we recommend supporting Negev Nectars (who also carry dried dates, pomegranate jam, and a host of other good stuff!)