Sinking your teeth into the summer-sweet flesh of a British tomato, it’s hard to believe that the fruit was once the subject of hatred and contempt. Eastern European religious Jews believed that the red juices running out of the fruit were a form of bad blood and therefore treif.
As you probably know, there are two types of fried fish in this country. There is the fried fish you buy from the chippy, coated in batter, deep fried and served with chips, a sprinkling of salt and soused with malt vinegar. Then there is our fried fish, coated in egg and matzah meal, pan fried and served cold with a nice bit of chreyn.
As a reader I’ve always been captivated by good narrative, and surely one of the most beautiful romances occurs in the Bible between Ruth the convert and Boaz. She is always pictured gleaning the barley harvest — Boaz tells his young men to leave her some full sheaves and at the end of the day she has all the barley she needs. And the story of Shavuot continues.
These days we enjoy coriander as an ingredient or garnish in curries and Middle Eastern foods. The Sephardim have always been aware of coriander’s special qualities but it has taken Askenazi cooks a while longer — encouraged by foreign travel and the herb’s availability — to understand its magic.
As you taste a slice of warm apple strudel laden with lemony, cinnamon juices, sink your teeth into a cinnamon bagel, or dip your fork into a fragrant curry with pieces of cinnamon bark simmered in the spicy sauce, you are transported to a world of spice. Yet cinnamon is now considered not only a wonderful cooking ingredient but a new and intriguing healer with an ability to combat viruses while immunising against various infections.
Asparagus, often referred to by epicureans as “grass”, is the perfect food. It has few calories, sublime flavour, proven health benefits (including anti-cancer properties) and, according to some enthusiasts, it can even perk up your love life.
Eating it is supposed to have the most startling effect. The 17th century herbalist Nicolas Culpepper said that this innocent vegetable “stirred up lust in men and women”.
When Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni missed out on becoming Israel’s prime minister a few weeks ago, there was another lesser-known honour that slipped through her fingers — the chance to have her likeness shaped out of marzipan.
Israel has its own take on Madame Tussauds but, in line with the fressing culture of the Jewish state, the models are edible. Prime ministers — as well as many other well-known figures — are recreated in consumable form.
Onions are so much part of our modern culinary repertoire that it is hard to believe they are one of the oldest vegetables in existence. And as we chop yet another onion and face the tears, it is interesting to consider the theory that the Israelite slaves — who built the pyramids — were fed onions in order to give them strength. More likely, the Egyptians had discovered how to cultivate these vegetables and could therefore use them as a cheap food source.
When the wonderful smell of macaroons wafts through my home, the almond fragrance almost symbolises Pesach baking. Throughout the centuries, Jews have sung the almond’s virtues and written poetry dedicated to its unique flavour. But its special position in Jewish culture extends far back to the times of the Bible.
In Hebrew its name is shaked, which can mean also mean watchful, industrious or vigilant. This polyvalence is resonant because in Israel, the almond tree is one of the first to flower and it symbolises God’s swift vengeance should the Children of Israel not behave.