The peach dumpling I’m eating as I write this looks like a starchy, speckled globe: a whole peach, wrapped in a dumpling shell and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. It’s certainly tasty, but it’s not as good as the ones my grandmother used to make. I did the best I could, picking out the ripest fruit at the supermarket and carefully following the recipe. But my first stab at Grandma Millie’s Czech fruit dumplings —”knedliky,” she called them — just didn’t quite measure up to hers. And I’m okay with that. After all, Millie made knedliky for decades. My dad has memories from the 1950s of eating them alongside his three younger brothers in their childhood home in a small town southwest of Chicago.
Like my dad, my childhood is also dotted with memories of Millie’s fruit dumplings. They’re the only dish I can remember any of my grandparents preparing for me. When I was little, my parents and I would fly from Oregon to visit my dad’s family in Illinois. Grandma Millie would typically whip up at least one batch during our visit. She’d bring containers of the still-warm dumplings to my aunt and uncle’s house, where they didn’t last long. I couldn’t tell you what we talked about as we dove into the warm peach-, plum- and nectarine-stuffed dumplings. Instead, most of what I remember revolves around the melted butter and cinnamon sugar slathered on top of the chewy dumpling shell, and the plump, cooked fruit inside it.
I have often thought how strange Sukkot must appear to those who are not familiar with the holiday. I imagine my neighbors thinking something like, “I thought it couldn’t get any more bizarre after my neighbor built this hut in her backyard, but now she is out there holding a lemon and shaking a bunch of leaves!” Even for those of us who are familiar with the rituals of the holiday, as city dwellers we have become so removed from agriculture that it is often hard to connect with this fall harvest festival. But for our ancestors, the harvest was so central to their lives that Sukkot was known simply as chag, the holiday. It was the time of year when they celebrated the completion of the harvest but also looked toward the future recognizing that without the proper conditions, they might not survive to celebrate Sukkot the next year.
As we face our world, threatened by global warming and a depleted water supply, Sukkot offers us a wonderful opportunity to remind ourselves how central the environment is to our survival. But reflection is not enough. During the week of Sukkot our ancestors fervently prayed for rain to ensure their future survival. We too must take action during Sukkot to work towards a more sustainable future. One action we can take is eating locally and sustainably during Sukkot.
There are countless benefits to eating locally and sustainably. Below are a few reasons why it is especially important to eat locally and sustainably during Sukkot:
Sukkot is one of the rare Jewish holidays that lacks traditional dishes, which is ironic since as a harvest holiday, it’s really all about the food. There’s plenty of instruction as to what belongs on the sukkah — figs, grapes, dates, and pomegranates are often sited. But when it comes to the meals that fill this week long celebration, each family is left to their own devices.
While there are no specific dishes for Sukkot, vegetables and fruit fit well with the harvest theme. And with everyone from Mark Bittman to Bill Clinton reconsidering their meat-eating habits, it seems natural timing to create a hearty vegetarian menu for the occasion. What better way to celebrate a harvest holiday?
On Yom Kippur this year, I felt my ancestors calling me more than ever before. Normally I spend Yom Kippur in synagogue, but this year I did my t’shuvah (repentance) on the road, walking through neighborhoods, cities and country landscapes as part of the Right2Know March to get genetically modified (GM) foods labeled. As I fasted and marched alongside 50 other people — some fasting, some not — I felt deeply moved and spiritually motivated to share my Yom Kippur journey and determination to label GM foods with other Jews.
In America today, there is no way to know if we are eating foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The Right2Know March is built of a community of organizations, businesses and individuals who are walking to the White House with a simple message: label our food that contains GMOs. The march started on October 1 in Prospect Park, Brooklyn and is arriving in Washington, DC on World Food Day, October 16. We are walking 313 miles because we are deeply concerned about the health and environmental risks of GM foods and believe that everyone has the right to know what is in their food. As a Jew, I believe that GM foods are not kosher and are not in line with how the Torah teaches us to take care of the earth.
“You’ll have to crawl on your hands and knees to find the lentils” warned Dr. Gideon Ladizinsky, a researcher at the Faculty of Agriculture in Rehovot, Israel. We were on a field trip to explore the wild progenitors of agricultural plants, scuffing up our clothes in the process. Even with my face centimeters from the damp earth, the fragile mesh of green was easy to overlook.
Wild lentils grow where other plants don’t; tiny roots grasp rocky soil, spreading fast and fiercely before the winter rains have evaporated. Soon the undergrowth takes hold, competing for the little moisture and space available. By the peak of spring, lentil pods have already dispersed their tiny seeds and have wilted back to the ground. There they lie dormant until the cycle begins again.
Imagine this: It’s the end of Yom Kippur, you’re famished, verging on delirious, and suddenly, you’re transported into a Wonka Land filled with matzo ball soup ponds, pickles, matzo farfel and a large deli sandwich. In this scenario, you’re also Ben Still hosting Saturday Night Live this Saturday just after Yom Kippur.
Stiller and Andy Samberg broke the fast together in the opening scene of SNL with a musical ode to Jewish food: “Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination… a magical world of Jewish foods, it’s every taste you’ve ever dreamed of from salty to fishy.”
This might just be our favorite SNL sketch ever!
We hope you all enjoyed the Forward’s first Food & Drink special section. Check out stories on brisket, Yiddish vegetarianism, the history of the bagel, DIY pickled herring and more.
Have an easy fast. We’ll pick up with more delicious food stories on Monday.
Meatpaper has teamed up with Pork Memoirs to ask how the “forbidden meat” has shaped your identity. Submit your story in 300 words or less to their essay contest. [Pork Memoir/Meatpaper]
Three words: Lemon. Cheese. Blintzes. YUM. (Okay that was four words, they look that fantastic.) [Food 52]
TMZ Takes on the East Coast/West Coast Bagel War. [TMZ]
With Yom Kippur upon us, thoughts of fasting loom. But take solace: Jews are not alone in this practice. Fasting is observed by religions around the world. While the reason, time of year, length, and type of fast vary greatly, almost every ends with a traditional but sumptuous meal.
Through the ages fasting has been prescribed as a way to repent, reflect, and become closer to whichever god one believes in. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, and during the month of Ramadan it is required that all able Muslim adults refrain from food, drink, and intercourse from sunrise to sunset each day. It signifies devotion to god and is supposed to teach observers about patience, restraint and kindness.
In the Forward’s first Food & Drink special section, coming out this Thursday, we trace the 600+ year history of the bagel. But where’s the best bagel in New York City? Read on to find out.
New Yorkers are an opinionated bunch. And few subjects are as polarizing as the city’s best bagels. When the Upper West Side location of the iconic H&H bagel shop closed in June, the city and bagel lovers everywhere, mourned the loss. But the closing also left a place open in the rungs of the top New York City bagels. So, we asked some of our favorite Jewish foodies to recommend their top bagel joints. We were hoping to find some sort of consensus on the city’s best bagel, but, alas, two our results proved the adage: two Jews, many opinions. Personally, we like them all. Share your #1 local bagel places in the comments below.
During the first summer in my current home in Denver, there were plenty of bees in the garden. Every time I walked outside to see how things were growing, I could see the bees buzzing around the plants, happily pollinating my zucchinis and herbs. I had an abundant harvest that year; in fact, I probably still have some pesto in the freezer. The next summer, there were almost no vegetables to harvest. And upon reflection, I realized there were also no bees. That was the summer of 2006.
This September I saw the movie “Queen of the Sun” as part of Denver-based Ekar Farm’s “Honey, It’s Bee Month” programming. From the movie, I learned that 2006 was a year that beekeepers all over the US started noticing a phenomenon called “Colony Collapse Disorder.” CCD is the term used to describe the spontaneous collapse of a beehive due to the disappearance of worker bees. Essentially all the worker bees from a hive simply disappear, for no apparent reason.
While Sabbath is a day of rest, some prefer unrest. Dan Sieradski, a new media activist, organized a Shabbat dinner last Friday amid the hubbub of the Occupy Wall Street protest taking place in Lower Manhattan.
Around 20 gathered in a corner of Zuccotti Park to welcome Shabbat, not far from the din of protestors and the soft “ommmm” of a few people meditating.
A couple of hours before Shabbat, Sieradski, 32, sent messages on Facebook and tweeted: “This is what shabbocracy looks like,” inviting Jews and non-Jews to join him.
For centuries, the system of kashrut helped us to decide whether food was “fit” for us to eat, but contemporary food issues are raising a whole new set of questions about what food we should and shouldn’t eat, which kashrut may or may not be able to answer.
Last May, Siach: An Environment & Social Justice Conversation brought together social justice leaders from across the United States, Israel, and Europe, including those who are developing the idea of Kashrut, to consider such factors as where food come from, who’s serving it, and how are those people treated.
While attending the Hazon Food Conference at the University of California, Davis campus last month, I had the pleasure of leading a table learning and discussion at the Community-Wide Beit Midrash (house of study) program on Saturday morning. Sitting at separate tables in the large room, I was one of two people who lead sessions on non-Jewish rather than Jewish texts. The noise level was high but the energy level was fierce. My role was as facilitator, not lecturer, and I found it timely to present a topic inspired by a post in Grist.com, which referenced a TED presentation by Frederick Kaufman called “The Measure of All Things.”
In the third video in the TEDx Manhattan series, Kaufman says that his purpose is to speak about the “retail face of sustainable food, the marketing of sustainability, and the great ‘green wash’ heading our way.” He introduces the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops, an initiative based in Arizona and California. This Index focuses not on commodity crops but on lettuce, grapes, almonds, and tomatoes. It’s made up of farmers, food processors, large environmental groups and academics who are attempting to find consensus for a “measurement of a unit of sustainability” for conventional farming. This is self-regulation, aka “market capture” amongst economists. Their goal? A sustainability label.
It all started in 1996, when Liora Gvion first wondered why the food served at a local restaurant in an Arab-Israeli town with a primarily Arab-Israeli clientele was the same as what was on the menu of Arab-owned restaurants that catered to Jewish Israelis. The sociologist of food, who lectures at the Kibbutzim College of Education and the Hebrew University, spent the next ten years, off and on, trying to figure out why this was so.
The result was a book, “B’gova Habeten” (“Abdominal Height”) published in 2006 about the political and social aspects of Palestinian food in Israel. The book will be released in English soon. Gvion spoke to the Jew and the Carrot about a related study she recently completed: “Cooking, Food and Masculinity: Palestinian Men in Israeli Society.”
Yom Kippur gives us an opportunity to reflect and repent, but for many of us the fasting element of the holiday can be very difficult. The most common problems include extreme hunger pains, headaches from caffeine withdrawal, and shakiness from low blood sugar (also known as hypoglycemia). Personally, I’ve dealt with all three of these issues in the past, and I’ve seen friends and family deal with a combination of them as well. Over the years through trial and error along with my nutrition education, I’ve come up with a list of tips to help get through the fast with ease:
Prep for the big day, and don’t supersize it! For a few days leading up to the fast, eat normal-sized portions at every meal. If you tend to overeat, be aware of how your stomach is feeling, eat slowly so your brain gets the signal you are full, and stop when you are satiated. Preparing for the fast in this way will greatly help control hunger pains.
A good challah can make a Jewish meal. Here are seven excellent ones in Los Angeles. [Serious Eats]
Rosh Hashanah now has it’s own cupcake. New York’s Magnolia Bakery is now serving up Honey Cupcakes made with walnuts and a touch of citrus zest. [Magnolia Bakery]
If the purpose of dipping apple slices into honey on Rosh Hashanah is to bring about a sweet year, caramel candy apples offer a kind of extreme dipping. The recipe puts a new twist on a custom that is hundreds of years old.
Some believe that the tradition of dipping apples in honey originated from Solomon’s “Song of Songs” which says, “As the apple is rare and unique among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved — Israel.” In addition, a midrash, or biblical tale, says that trees and all vegetation were created on Rosh Hashanah eve. Others argue that the tradition came from Eastern Europe, where few biblical fruits, other than the apple, were common. Apple trees were also harvested around the holiday season. Either way, it is a beautiful custom: apples, the fruits of love, created on Rosh Hashanah eve, dipped in nature’s sweetest goo. It’s a sticky, finger-licking reminder of a sweet year.
Caramel candy apples are a snazzy version of the practice, like an ancient tradition on steroids. The process of making them is rather straightforward and a fun way to spend an afternoon in the kitchen, especially with kids. Each caramel apple is dipped in a delicious lacquer of the gooey stuff and individually designed with endless options for colorful toppings.
Apple cake is one of Judaism’s most enduring recipes. Every family has its own method and nary a Jewish cookbook is without an entry for this perennial favorite. While the cake is popular year round, at no time does it see more action than during Rosh Hashanah, when apples and honey represent a sweet new year. But there are many other simanim (the symbolic foods of Rosh Hashanah) that get overlooked and this year I wanted to bring them into the picture.
In a humorous twist of history and translation, apples may not have even been one of the biblical fruits of the bible. According to Gil Marks in “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food,” the bible mentions tapuach, which in modern Hebrew means apple. “However,” he says, “many authorities believe that the biblical tapuach was in fact a different fruit, perhaps the quince or a citrus fruit, because in the biblical period, the apple primarily grew wild and was not yet easily cultivated in tropical areas like Israel and Egypt.”
Start the year off well, be bold, shine forth with simplicity. Rosh Hashanah foods are meant not just to tickle our taste buds but also to inspire. The flavors and textures of holiday foods are meant to encourage the turn towards new possibilities. According Gilda Angel, the author of the “Sephardic Holiday Cooking,” Turkish Jewish cuisine, which relies on bright flavors of vegetables, side lining the heavy spices that dress up other Middle Eastern Jewish culinary traditions, is the perfect way to give the New Year a bright bold fresh start.
Like other Sephardic Jews, Turkish Jews who are originally of Spanish decent make food a spiritual centerpiece of the holiday. Drawing on the ancient Talmudic custom of eating foods that embody the wishes that we have for the New Year, Sephardic Jews around the world have developed complex holiday menus utilizing the ingredients that correlate to the blessings for the New Year. For those worried that there might be a negative decree in the coming year, try eating pumpkin dishes, such as the Pan De Calabaza, a pumpkin bread from the menu below, which will work to annul the decree. Leeks, like those who found in the Keftes De Prasa, or leek fritters, also below help give us luck instead of strengthen those who seek to triumph over us.
When I participated in the Adamah Fellowship at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in the fall of 2006, I remember feeling such amazement at the way that the High Holidays perfectly lined up with the agricultural calendar. I arrived at the farm just in time to see summer turn into fall — to harvest the last of the tomatoes and eggplants, clear out old cucumber and summer squash plants and begin to put the field “to bed,” planting cover crop and spreading manure to ensure fertile soil for the next growing season. As we celebrated the New Year, we dipped the first of the season’s apples into honey and feasted upon the frost-sweetened storage crops of the season: carrots, beets, and potatoes.
This year, the beginning of fall brought on the terrific force of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. Connecticut rainstorms usually bring about an inch of rain, but these storms together brought between 9 and 11.5 inches of rain. This massive amount of water caused our main field, the sadeh, to flood — not once, but twice. As these waters rushed over the rows of carefully tended vegetables, they wreaked havoc. Low-lying vegetables such as cabbages and carrots were drowned. Other crops were simply swept away. The winter squash, which had been gathering sugars to be as sweet as possible for harvest, floated in the floodwaters to the woods at the edges of the field. Because of possible contamination in the floodwaters, vegetables that remained after the waters receded have been deemed unsafe to eat. Topsoil — the fertile, soft soil that farmers spend almost as much time cultivating as they do vegetables — was completely washed from the field. The past seven years of composting and cover cropping was lost and will have to begin our next season on hard, compacted soil.