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.
The egg is such an integral part of Pesach cookery that the process of preparing Pesach can be measured by the number of eggs used. A huge number are whisked to lighten kugels, kneidlach, chremslach, soufflés, cakes and biscuits. And the symbolism that is woven around the Pesach egg is fascinating and complicated.
What are your memories of school food? Mushy peas, mashed potato with cold cuts and the ever-present portion of chips? Post Jamie Oliver’s school-dinner revolution, I went to visit eight Jewish primary schools to review what was on the menu and how well the message about eating healthy was being understood and acted upon.
Quality was uneven with some schools failing to provide what I would regard as either the right attitude or the right food for their pupils.
Kreplach are one of those things that a lot of people think about making before abandoning the idea because it just seems like too much work. But these soft, moist parcels simmered in a rich soup or liquor are delectable when they are home-made and so different from the shop or restaurant version that it is a shame not to try them. And while you taste, you can be captivated — as I was — with the mystical reasons for eating and making kreplach.
The French have a passion for cassoulet, Lancastrians revel in hot pot and the Irish enthuse about their stew, but none of these holds a light to a hearty, steaming bowl of cholent. That, at least, is my opinion, although I accept that it can be an acquired taste.
Picky sophisticates are unlikely to appreciate its heady aroma or its thick consistency. Indeed, to get the best out of it, an appreciation of basic folk-lore food and a big appetite is required.
He never studied wine-making, he broke all the rules about where to plant his grapes and he never had any ambition to make more than a few hundred bottles for friends and family. Yet against all the odds, Eli ben Zaken has become Israel’s most acclaimed wine-maker, with fans ranging from heads of state to our own television taster, Oz Clarke.
Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for Trees and one of the most beautiful events in the Jewish calendar, is considered a minor festival and often neglected. But it can be special, particularly for food-lovers. Tu B’Shvat, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat, was established by Talmudic rabbinate to determine the age of trees and calculate when they could be harvested.
For a nice Jewish girl, she is shockingly down on bread, bagels and cheesecake. But Esther Blum does recommend butter and chocolate, even to dieters, and is happy to share her recipe for the best vodka martini.
Sarah Jessica Parker reputedly follows this new-age nutritionist’s unconventional advice — which thrills 38-year-old Blum. The enviably trim New York mum says Carrie Bradshaw was a big inspiration for her Sex and the City-style diet book, which is currently attracting more hype than the new Dr Who.
As fishmongers and their customers enjoy the seasonal abundance of the herring, it’s good to remember how this humble fish has served our ancestors. It is wrapped in nostalgia.
During my childhood I remember going with my father to the local deli, which was percolated with magical fragrances of spices and pickles. I’d munch on a soft-crusted bulke and gaze at huddles of hatted Jewish women gossiping, while seeking out the plumpest herrings.
The olive may be decidedly trendy today. But most of us have no idea how it is transformed from a hard, bullet-like fruit to the jarred or tinned product that garnishes our cocktails and tops our pizzas.
“It’s a shame that the preparation of olives is such a mystery to most people as it’s not that different to how many people’s grandmas and aunts used to pickle cucumbers and cabbage,” says Nitzan Shatzkin, head grower for Halutza, one of Israel’s most internationally-renowned brands of olives and olive oil.