Traditions and cookies

March 12, 2017

Halloween is in October, but Purim is in March. I remember the celebrations from my childhood; packing baskets full of miniature bottles of grape juice, bags of cookies and little cherry candies then delivering them to friends and neighbors in costume. While I haven’t celebrated properly in synagogue since, well, childhood, there’s a little bit of excitement each year when Purim rolls around.

If you’re not already in the know, hang on, because you’re about to get a crash course in Purim. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away – and by that I mean in the 4th century BCE in the Persian Empire, King Ahasveros was in need of a new wife. He arranged a beauty pageant, and during this, the lovely Esther caught his eye. Esther was Jewish, but kept that a secret, and the two were married. Meanwhile, the king’s advisor, one Haman, was appointed prime minister of the empire and demanded obedience from the empire’s subjects. Brave Mordechai, leader of the Jews and cousin to the new queen refused to bow to this power hungry, known anti-semite. In a rage, Haman convinced the king to exterminate the Jews. Mordechai organized his people who repented, fasted and prayed, while Esther revealed her background to the king and explained the situation. The king had Haman hanged, and made Mordechai prime minister instead, also granting to the Jews the right to defend themselves. On that day they defended themselves, and on the next they celebrated – Purim is that celebration day.

My father, in his infinite wisdom, says that Jewish holidays can be summed up in, “they tried to kill us, they didn’t succeed, let’s eat.” And I suppose in the cases of Purim, Chanukah and Passover, there is something to that.

Traditionally, to celebrate Purim you will hear the story read from the Megillah in synagogue (at least where we went, a somewhat raucous affair with shouts and noisemakers to drown out the name of Haman), giving to the needy (we would collect coins in small boxes to donate), bringing food to friends (the gift baskets mentioned earlier) and a celebratory meal.

Did I mention you dress up? Somewhere, and sadly I don’t have a copy to share, there is a photo of me at 6 months old, wearing a tiny gold crown and blue satin dress, all decked out as Queen Esther.

Now that you know the whole story, why am I telling you it? The answer is simply, hamantaschen. That’s ha-men-tosh-en. Now say it at normal speed. Hamantaschen.

This translates to “Haman’s ear”, which is kind of skeevy, but don’t let you put that off. Hamantaschen are the best; delightful little cookies stuffed with flavorful fillings. Traditional fillings include strawberry, apricot and prune jam, chocolate, and a sweetened poppy seed paste. Now, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t buy hamantaschen this year, because I actually bought and dispensed with two batches before the holiday even started (the entire early part of March was hamantaschen time). But I’m really here to talk to you about making them.

My cookie dough follows the recipe from Tori Avey, for Dairy Free Hamantaschen. My filling was homemade blueberry and peach jams, from the stockpile I made last summer. The dough is just right, and because it doesn’t need to be chilled, it saves time. Instead of rolling the dough on a floured table, I did it between two pieces of parchment paper to avoid extra flour on the cookies and a little bit of mess in the kitchen. Take note than a batch is roughly 35 cookies and will take nearly an entire regular size jar of jam; a teaspoon per cookie adds up. The folding method described in the recipe is spot on, making neat and lovely three pointed pinwheels that hold their shape most perfectly.

At a family gathering last night the peach were the runaway favorite, with the blueberry not far behind. These cookies do take time, as do any rolled and filled cookie, but they are not at all difficult to make. With help from my toddler, I cut out my circles and filled them with only minimal mess (the dough can be rolled out over and over, so sloppy circles are no big deal).

Purim technically ends at sunset this evening. Nonetheless, if you’re a cookie person, I recommend giving these a try. They come out so good, it seems silly to only make them once a year!

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