With Purim around the corner, sweet pastries and treats come to mind.
When it came to Purim baking, my beloved Hungarian Bubbie took out all the stops. Slaving for weeks, she baked many labor intensive Hungarian specialty cakes. As Purim approached, in her large second floor porch, slowly the table would get stacked, higher and higher with these delectable sweets. We’re talking bakery expertise level cakebaking here: Zerboselet, fluden, kipfaleh (like rugelach), dobos torte, and so many many more. The cakes were each a minimum three layers high. With her European Old World flair, they would be perfectly sliced into rectangles. No brownie style American cut squares for her.
Silky smooth kreplach soup dumplings, along with an abundant Purim banquet, were prepared as well. Like I said, for this one day holiday, weeks of work went into it. It was for her, yet again, a labor of love. Bringing honor to the traditions of living a Jewish life, and passing on to us her family’s way of life that was truncated by WW II — a way of life that she, like a shoot growing on an otherwise denuded tree, spent her entire life mindfully replanting for us.
Of course, the primary Purim pastry we all associate with the holiday is none other than the humble hamantasch. Or, if you are Israeli, “ozen Haman.” It can be confusing . . . is it a pocket of poppy, or “Haman’s ears” you are eating when you enjoy these three-cornered cookies?
Going with oznei haman, the reason for the name supposedly being that the cookie was baked in homage to the defeat of the evil Haman and his genocidal plan for the Jewish people, lore has it that Haman wore a three cornered hat.
By extension, when you are eating hamantaschen you are symbolically taking a stand against the genocide of the Jewish people.
I’ve heard that the word hamantaschen is derived from the word mohn for poppy — mohn, which sounds like the villain of the Purim story, Haman. Hence hamantaschen, the popular associative pastry of Purim.
Of all the various delicious Jewish foods and pastries, it is hamantaschen that have somehow entered the mainstream.
Around New York, walk by the bakery in a supermarket on the Upper West Side, and there they are. Dried-looking as can be, with the pale plastic-looking filling hard as a rock, stuck in the middle.
So, while I avoid many of the bakery sawdust tasting hamantaschen, the homemade ones are delicious. Rolling a thin layer of gleaming lemon flecked sweet sugary dough across the dining room table, perforating circles, scooping sticky fillings, folding, glazing, baking . . . and viola, you’ve got such beautiful stained glass looking pastries, so pretty and so delicious.
Baking those taschen is a real project, I confess. In recent years, I tell myself, forget it, go with the deconstructed jam bars, it’s the same idea after all, but as the holiday gets closer it’s just not the same without rolling the dough and baking a few dozen little triangles.
And with that I submit to the culinary rhythms of the Jewish calendar.
It is my way, like my grandmother modeled for me, of according honor to the holiday; my way of watering the shoot she regrafted all on her own, onto the tree of our family that stands today.
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