by Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
Purim, or the Feast of Lots, is a joyous Jewish festival commemorating the survival of the Jews who in the 5th century B.C, were marked for death by their Persian rulers. The story is related in the Old Testament in the Book of Esther. Esther is the heroine in the story and plays the leading role in saving her people. The holiday is traditionally celebrated with wild abandon and this year it will be celebrated starting sundown Wednesday, Feb. 28.
Before the Hamantaschen, here is some history!
The story of Purim takes place during a time when many Jews were living in Persia. A young Jewish woman, Esther, rises to be Queen of Persia under the tutelage of her uncle and guardian Mordecai. All, however, is not right. The Jews have enemies, and a certain man named Haman, the prime minister under King Ahasuerus, plots the Jews’ destruction. Even though Esther has hidden her Jewish identity from all, Mordecai prevails on her to risk her life by revealing her true identity to the king. She does this and denounces the evil Haman’s plot. At the end of the story, the Jews are able to turn the tables on their enemies, who are then punished in place of the intended victims. This story is one of the most beloved in the Jewish community.
In distinction to various other holidays, such as Pesach (Passover), Purim is the more of a community holiday. Nonetheless, there are a number of activities that are centered in the home. One of the favorite activities in preparation for the holiday is the baking of Hamantaschen, the triangular filled pastries that are the traditional food at Purim time. For many the centerpiece of Purim’s home celebration is the seudah, a festive meal accompanied by alcoholic beverages.
Purim is a community holiday of joyful celebration. The centerpiece of the communal celebration is the reading of the Scroll of Esther, the Megillah, in the synagogue. This is often a raucous affair, with whoops, hollers and noise being made every time Haman’s name is mentioned, so no one can hear the name of this horrible evildoer. Another tradition is the Purim shpiel, the Purim play, during which fun is often poked at community leaders and members.
In Springfield, The Temple Israel Choir portrays the story through a contemporary artist’s music. This year the music is by Billy Joel. You can find a New York synagogue’s shpiel on You Tube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ie8jCuyN9VM.
Purim has often been called the Jewish carnival, and dressing in costume and taking part in a Purim carnival heighten the levity of the day. The story of Purim, however, holds out the hope that no matter how bad the circumstances, things will turn out well in the end. The holiday of Purim has become one of the best-loved holidays of the Jewish year. The reasons for this are easy to see. It is a joyous holiday on which everyone just lets go.
Gil Marks in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food says Eastern Europeans and their foods came to dominate the Ashkenazic (Eastern European) world in the 19th century and “Hamantaschen emerged as the quintessential Ashkenazic Purim treat.” The original dough was kuchen, the rich yeast dough, and common fillings for Hamantaschen include dates, prunes and poppy seeds. The word Hamantaschen is taken from the German words, mohn (meaning poppy seeds) and taschen (referring to pockets). Some say the pockets refer to Haman who stuffed his pockets with bribe money. The original name was mohntaschen, and the tradition of eating them may date back as far as the 12th century. Shmil Holland, the Israeli historian, caterer and cook, says when Jews fled Germany for Eastern Europe in the late Middle Ages, they took the poppy seed pastry with them and added the Yiddish prefix, “ha,” thus making it hamantash. When Eastern Europeans immigrated to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the idea arrived with them.
There are many explanations for the triangular shape of Hamantaschen. Some say they represent a triangular-shaped hat worn by Haman, the villain in the Purim story, and that we eat them as a reminder that his very cruel plot was foiled. Yet another explanation applies to “oznei Haman,” Haman’s ears, their name in Israel.
Patrick from Incredibly Delicious in Springfield informs me that they will be preparing Hamantaschen for the holiday, and this year they will be available Feb. 28. You may want to call Incredibly Delicious in advance to check on varieties they have prepared and availability. I will be there early to bring home many plus his other wonderful sweets and breads for Carol and me to enjoy.
If you wish to make your own, I have called on Marlene Schultz to provide her family recipe. Thank you Marlene. Joan Nathan has written many Jewish cooking books and you can watch her prepare Hamantaschen at http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/124570/the-ultimate-hamantaschen
4 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Grated rind of 1 lemon or orange (optimal)
Prune filling: 1 lb prune soaked overnight, drain and chop
2 tsp lemon juice-grated lemon peel
(Marlene uses Solo prune filling and Solo poppy seed filling)
Mix and sift dry ingredients
Add oil, eggs
Roll out on floured board to 1/8 inch thickness
Cut in 4 inch rounds
Place heaping teaspoon of filling in center of each round
Bring edges together forming a triangle
Pinch edges together
Bake on greased baking sheet 375 degrees until browned
Recipe courtesy of Marlene Schultz
Chag Purim Sameach!