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.
For those of us who live in the main Jewish areas of the major cities of the UK, kosher shopping has never been much of a problem. We have always had a wide range of kosher delis and shops available.
However, in the marginal neighbourhoods that cannot sustain a Jewish deli, the accessibility of kosher food has significantly improved over recent years with the provision of kosher items in the major supermarkets.
What a fascinating role the potato plays in Jewish social history. Contrary to the Tudor legend, it was first introduced to Spain in 1570 by the Spanish conquistadors, who discovered it while hunting Peruvian gold. But the Spanish distrusted and ostracised the new tuber. As it was not mentioned in the Bible and originated from a heathen culture, it was frowned on by the Catholic Church.
There are few people in this world — coeliacs excepted — who do not enjoy a bagel with cream cheese and a slice of smoked salmon. But one woman’s love of the roll with the hole became so all-consuming that she wrote a book about its history.
The dinner table at Chanucah is an expression of the different rituals of each family, their culture and the community they come from. However, one thing is common to most families — a focus on fried foods to reflect the story of the festival.
In Israel they make doughnuts, or sufganiyot, filled with jam similar to the German berliner, the Polish paczke or the Russian ponchik. In Yiddish they are known as ponchkes. The word sufganiyot derives from the Hebrew for sponge, which suitably describes their texture.
Chanucah celebrates the supremacy of the Jewish rebels over Greek occupiers. During the period of the Second Temple, the Syrian/Greek rulers forced Jews to worship Greek deities and, under threat of torture and death, prevented them from practising their religions. Thousands of Jews were taken into slavery and massacred, while the Temple was systematically pillaged and despoiled.
On a cold winter’s day, we crave something warming and comforting, and our minds turn to soup. Traditionally, soup has always been part of Jewish culture. The mess of potage given by Jacob to Esau was first mentioned in Genesis.