For the past two years, I have had the privilege of serving as an AmeriCorps Volunteer Coordinator at the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center. In 2011, I partnered with the Temple Beth David Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and Long Island Cares, a major food bank, to collect and distribute fresh produce to local food pantries for Care to Share. This initiative, a collaboration of UJA-Federation of New York, AmeriCorps, Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and Hazon, aims to feed the hungry during the Sukkot and harvest season and raise awareness about the importance of healthy eating and nutrition. Volunteers helped promote and support this initiative in Suffolk County by spreading the word and donating fresh fruits and vegetables straight from their home gardens or purchased from a store. Two volunteers I worked closely with, Beth Needleman at Temple Beth David and Elana Sisson at Long Island Cares, played vital roles in helping collect 505 pounds of fresh produce to give to local food pantries, an amazing accomplishment that allowed us to help approximately 490 families on Long Island. We take pride in helping those in need by making their holiday season more abundant and special.
This year make room for chocolate in your Sukkot celebration. Sukkot’s theme of openness symbolized by the leafy ceiling and flimsy walls tempts creative approaches to menus, decorations, and customs. Deuteronomy 16:14’s challenge “v’samachta b’chagecha” (to rejoice in the festival) could easily be fulfilled by layering chocolate onto the holiday’s menus. Sukkot’s custom of welcoming honored guests, known as ushpizin, (traditionally Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, David; additionally more recently, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Abigail, Esther) into the Sukkah. What better way to honor a guest than to treat them to tantalizing chocolate concoctions.
It could also be fun to recall some of the earlier Jews with significant connections to chocolate by extending a symbolic Sukkah invitation of ushpizin to colonial American traders, retailers and manufacturers such as Aaron Lopez, Rebecca Gomez and Daniel Gomez. From the first of the Jewish chocolate makers ever, in Bayonne, France, include Abraham D’Andrade. Cite Jews who developed the navigational sciences of the 15th-16th centuries which in turn created the opportunity for European first contact with cocoa beans, such as Abraham Ben Samuel Zacuto.
Manna, the unknown substance upon which the Jews subsisted in the desert, has been a subject of mystery and wonder to the Jewish people for many thousands of years. Last night, a trendy New York beit-midrash study group called LABA brought the question to the table once again as part of their year-long discussion of food and eating. When I spoke to event organizer and Laba artistic director, Elissa Strauss, she explained that Manna is a miracle and a mystery. It’s not what we think of when we think about Jewish food, but it was a really important part of the Jewish experience in the Desert.
During the High Holy Days when we are asked to take stock of our own lives and to squarely confront our own mortality, it is appropriate to also examine the well-being of the larger Creation upon which we depend, and of which we are a part. When we consider water, it has been quite a year indeed. We have witnessed a frightening series of droughts, forest fires, floods, ice melts, heat waves, and other extreme weather events. On top of these natural phenomena, hydrofracking has emerged as one of the most significant environmental issues of our time. Kyle Rabin, Director of GRACE Foundation’s Water and Energy Programs, notes that, “It takes 4.5 million gallons of water to drill and fracture a typical deep shale gas well, and up to 1 million gallons of that hazardous water-sand-chemical mixture flows back up to the surface which, if mishandled, can pose a threat to nearby water resources.”
The Torah is full of references to “mayim chayim,” “living waters.” The language of mayim chayim is used in a number of contexts. It is used to describe the fresh, potable water that Isaac’s servants find when re-digging Abraham’s stopped wells (Genesis 26:19), and by the prophet Jeremiah who refers to the Creator as the “Source of Living Waters,” (Jeremiah 17:13). Finally, the language of “living waters” in used commonly in the context of ritual purification for both people and for objects (Numbers 19:17 for example).
Ayala Moriel, a Vancouver-based artisan natural perfumer is attracting some interesting attention this sukkot and it’s not for her sukkah. Moriel has bottled the scent of the holiday (or atleast it’s signature fruit) in her Etrog Oy de Cologne. The perfume is made by blending the essence of etrog or citron with smells of pomelo, Japanese mint, green myrtle, honey, lemon myrtle and frankincense.
The scent is one of the latest among the approximately 50 all-natural hand crafted fragrances Moriel has created for Ayala Moriel Parfums, the company she started in 2001. “It’s climbing fast onto my bestseller list. It’s nice to see something new so well received,” she said about the etrog cologne, which has more staying power than most citrus fragrances, which tend to dissipate quickly.
Although Moriel is known mainly for her botanical fragrances, some of which are considered by experts to be as refined as some of the classical European perfumes. She has also begun to expand her offerings to include perfumed tea and chocolates.
“It’s like adapting a short story into a movie” Moriel said of her process of producing food stuffs that correspond to her perfumes.
Stuffed vegetables are a central part of the Jewish culinary canon, but growing up I thought they were limited to cabbage and peppers. Only when I moved to Israel did I come to appreciate the sheer multitude of vegetables that can be stuffed — peppers and cabbage yes, but also tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, eggplant, onions, and more. Of all of them it was the stuffed onions that were a true revelation, those delicate, tear-inducing layers wrapped around sweet and savory mixtures of meat and stewed until rich and tender.
They make the perfect dish for Sukkot either as a side or centerpiece. While there are no foods specific to the fall harvest holiday, stuffed items — in the form of kreplach, stuffed vegetables, fruit-filled pastries, and whatever else you might imagine — have become the standard. Some believe that stuffed foods represent the bounty that comes with a good harvest. Others say that stuffed foods are akin to being wrapped in a Sukkah. On a practical level, stuffed vegetables can also be made ahead, are good hot or room temperature, and can be easily transported to the Sukkah. Whatever the reason, it’s a delicious custom.
Pastrami is no longer just deli fare. In New York, you’ll find it in tacos, ramen and even Kung Pao. [Fork in the Road]
In the Jewish Cookery Book, the first kosher and Jewish cookbook published in America, author Esther Levy provides a recipe for challah but calls it something completely different. Curious? Find out what she called it. [Haaretz]
Celebrate fall and have a delicious meal in the Sukkah with Ruth Reichl’s pumpkin pancakes. [Ruth Reichl]
If you need a break from hummus on your challah, try this delicious sounding bean dip with dill, mint and parsley. [David Lebovitz]
Sukkot is the holiday that celebrates the autumn harvest. The last of the three annual pilgrimage festivals on the Jewish calendar (if we’re counting from Pesach), these were the days in ancient times when our ancestors would gather the best of their seasonal produce and travel to the Temple in Jerusalem to give thanks as a community. In modern times, the communal table often takes the place of the Temple, bringing people together to give thanks for the abundance of the harvest. At the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center’s Sukkahfest more than a hundred people from all denominations of Judaism come together to celebrate and give thanks for the fruits of the season. Participants are able to see firsthand the source of their sustenance, with opportunities to visit our farm, orchard, and barnyard. Another way to show gratitude for the abundance of the harvest, and to continue to feed oneself with locally grown produce through the colder months, is preservation.
At Isabella Freedman we make every effort to utilize our farm’s produce when it is a fresh as possible — when it tastes the best and has the most nutritional value. Much of the produce grown on the Adamah farm is made into live cultured, lacto fermented pickled products. After the first frost in the fall, cabbages are harvested, chopped, salted, and made into sauerkraut. Scallions, daikon radishes, carrots, Napa cabbage, and hot peppers are mixed together to create our spicy kim chi. The last of the season’s hot peppers are mixed with sugar and cooked down to produce Bomb Jelly. After the jelly is finished cooking, it is poured into sterilized jars and canned, making a shelf stable product that can be stored anywhere in the kitchen. Lacto fermentation and canning are two time-tested preservation methods. One can imagine our ancestors marveling at their harvest of cucumbers, cabbages, or beets and covering the abundance in a brine of salted water to keep for the coming seasons.
Still looking for some delicious recipes for the holiday? Check out a Sukkot-Inspired Harvest Feast and a lovely story about celebrating Sukkot in the orthodox neighborhood Crown Heights in Brooklyn. [Saveur]
Myra Goodman, co-founder of Earthbound Farm, is a quiet and unlikely pioneer for organic farming but, “If you’re buying organic baby spinach at a Whole Foods in December, chances are it’s from Earthbound,” writes Ben Harris. [Tablet]Chef
Target’s fish is going sustainable: “The second largest discount retailer in the U.S. announced Thursday that it will sell only sustainable, traceable fish by 2015.” [The LA Times]
As the Jewish holiday season progresses from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur toward Sukkot, each holiday has a special relationship to food that builds on the preceding holiday. Rosh Hashanah is a time of feasting: succulent apples and honey and round raisin challah, a table of sweetened abundance. Yom Kippur, in contrast, is a day of fasting, and even though we are only hungry for a day, the holiday encourages empathy for those who face hunger every day, including 1.4 million New York City residents (according to the NYC Coalition Against Hunger) and millions of people world-wide. Finally, during the harvest festival of Sukkot, we combine feasting with our obligation to feed the hungry.
Leviticus 23:22 describes the harvest commandment of peah, according to which we must leave the four corners of our field to be gleaned by the poor and the stranger. In the system of peah, leaving the corners of one’s field unharvested provides for the hungry in a way that addresses their needs while simultaneously preserving their dignity: the hungry can take produce as needed without the embarrassment or shame that could accompany receiving charity. For those of us living in an urban area, where the majority of the residents are not farmers, we can use the tradition of peah as guidance for the way we address local food insecurity.
This Sukkot, a program called Care to Share is doing just that.
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?
Autumn – and its component parts – will forever make me swoon. Bejeweled night skies, decisive evening breezes, the twin smells of fire and dried leaves. Most of all, I am in love with all things harvest.
Of course, it goes to follow that Sukkot is my favorite Jewish holiday. Some of my fondest Sukkot memories involve laying the table thick with harvest-appropriate dishes – garlicky root vegetables, hearty savory kugels, hypnotically flavorful soups, perfectly honey-soaked and apple-spiced desserts – the feasting only periodically interrupted by a rousing song or three. Such an abundant spread had always seemed to me like the most utterly perfect way to mark both the holiday and the season.
That is, until I learned about canning, the perfect way to preserve the season’s harvest. And let me tell you, it took me longer than most. For years, I had been gifted with tiny adorable jars of relatives’ fruit butters and samples of friends’ fermented carrots before it dawned on me that there was the sliver of a possibility that I, too, might someday can.
Today The Jew and the Carrot brings you a special beverage series for Sukkot. This morning’s installment discussed wines to try out in your sukkah. In the second installment here, we suggest experimenting with infused spirits, perfect for a harvest celebration.
Along with Purim and Simchat Torah, the current holiday of Sukkot is a joyful time when imbibing more than usual is encouraged. Surely the time for a strong, celebratory and delicious drink!
With inspiration from both the harvest festival and spirit-ual trends, we present infused rye and rye cocktails, perfect for sipping in the sukkah.
Why rye? Well, everyone else is infusing vodka. More importantly, autumn is a time for amber spirits. And although Sukkot’s food traditions aren’t terribly specific (what a relief!), it’s generally a good thing to eat bountifully of the fruit and vegetable harvest – and to consume the biblical five grains: wheat, barley, spelt, oats and rye.
The harvest holiday of Sukkot does not have a mascot food like Chanukah and Purim; the closest it comes is the tradition to eat stuffed vegetables. We know why we make latkes and hamentaschen, but why do we stuff vegetables (and everything else) on Sukkot?
The most traditional reason given for stuffing foods is that the stuffing symbolizes the bounty of the harvest yet for most of us, this is not the time of year in which the harvest is most bountiful. Many of the foods that are harvested at this time of year, such as apples, grapes, and potatoes are actually foods that can be eaten during the long winter ahead and do not bring about the same youthful, unrestrained joy as do sweet corn and juicy peaches in July and August.
One of my earliest Sukkot memories concerns wasted food. My father was the assistant rabbi of a large synagogue, which decorated its two enormous sukkahs with fresh fruits and vegetables: green peppers and apples and oranges.
But even as a small child, I understood that once all that food had spent the eight days of Sukkot exposed to cold Toronto air, it was garbage. To my twin sister and I, it seemed wrong to let that food go to waste. And while we couldn’t change what the shul did, it changed how we decorated our sukkah at home. From that day forward, nothing that could be eaten could become a decoration. It’s still our custom today.
The underlying Jewish value of ba’al tashkhit, or not wasting, guides my actions. Faced with a bounty of food during a harvest celebration, it isn’t a time for waste.
Sukkot encourages us each year to eat autumn harvest meals outside in a roughly constructed sukkah, covered with leafy fronds and decorated with the fruits of the harvest, with a view of the night sky.
My favorite way to celebrate the holiday is by preparing a spontaneous farmers’ market dinner. I go to the market, buy the ingredients that are the most appealing and then concoct a meal out of what I found.
But thanks to intersection of Indian summer (or is it global warming?) and the early arrival of Sukkot this year, I’ve had to adjust my menu accordingly. Instead of the gourds, pumpkins and other durable fall squash that we often use to decorate the sukkah, and the root vegetables that symbolize autumn to me, I found that it’s still late summer at the farmers’ market. So to take advantage of the beautiful heirloom tomatoes and late summer corn, summer squash and zucchini, I decided to make a feast of vegetables that can be prepared without turning on the oven. The dishes below rely heavily on the wonderful natural flavors of the produce, so make sure to use the freshest ingredients possible.
“When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf in the field, do not turn back to get it; it shall go to the stranger, the orphan.” - Deuteronomy 24:19
How wonderful that my tradition would like me to share with those less fortunate in my community. Where do I start? The harvest holiday of Sukkot is coming up, but I’m not exactly planning to reap a harvest anytime soon, let alone overlook any particular sheaf. Now what to do?
In a Hazon program on Jews and food in 2004, I had this discussion with a woman who was a part of a Community Supported Agriculture project (CSA): “In a CSA,” she explained, “it’s inevitable that someone doesn’t come pick up their produce on a given week.” Indeed, CSAs generally partner with an emergency food provider to scoop up the left-behind produce. When Hazon founded the first Jewish CSA that summer, we were thrilled to bring fresh vegetables to a Jewish community, and also create a situation where members could fulfill the mitzvah of gleaning.
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