The song of Songs says “comfort me with apples”, and surely has resonance for all of us. There is nothing like walking through an orchard when ripe fruit hangs heavy off the tree. The thing to do is to cook some of the apples straight away, simply stewing them, maybe with fresh blackberries. Or choose the largest, fattest Bramleys and hollow out their cores, cutting their skins and stuffing them with mixed spice, dried fruit and marmalade. Then bake them in a little water until the tops are golden and the centres puffy and fragrant — that is certainly comforting.
The apple forms part of Jewish mysticism; some symbolism evolves from the Midrash where we are told that the fruit appears before the leaves. This is interpreted by sages who say that the fruit is a motif for the Jewish people who stand proud of their faith, despite their obvious vulnerability, in the knowledge that God is caring for them.
There is also a wonderful story of a miracle that occurred at Pesach, which should be repeated during the High Holy Days. The Egyptians tried to reduce the Jewish birth-rate and organised the men’s shifts so that married couples would not be together. However, the Jewish women took food to the men in their rest-breaks and so snatched quiet times together. When God saw the couples, he made apple orchards rise in the picnic areas to give privacy and shade.
In the Song of Songs it says, “Beneath the apple tree I aroused you. There your mother birthed you, where she herself was born.”
Some say that the apple was the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and certainly its sweet sharpness and rich colour implies a glorious voluptuousness. The story is perpetuated by describing the lump — the larynx — that is prominent on the man’s throat as the Adam’s apple, which is supposed to be a piece of apple that stuck in his throat during the Fall. But other commentators believe that this is a myth and the fig is more likely to be the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.
Interestingly, the predecessor of the wild Malus domestica is part of the rose family and originated in Kazakhstan. There it is called “alma” while the area of origin is called “alma alta” — father of apples. This plant is still found growing wild in Central Asia today and reputed to be one of the very first fruit trees cultivated by man.
Modern science recommends eating more fruit. We say, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. Increasing evidence shows that eating apples regularly may assist in fighting some cancers, particularly colon, prostate and lung cancer. They are also useful in lowering cholesterol and act as a mild appetite suppressant, for apples contain large amounts of fibre, providing a helpful amount of bulk per fruit.
We all have childhood recollections of dipping apple slices in honey (during biblical times it would have been date-honey) and praying for a sweet New Year. You could try the Algerian Jewish tradition of dipping honeyed slices in sesame seeds, the seeds representing coins or prosperity. And why not think of adding chopped apple to your tsimmes for extra sweetness at this special time?
Or try my delicious spicy, sticky toffee honey pudding for the perfect after-Yomtov dessert.
Spicy, sticky toffee honey pudding
Serves 10. Double quantities for 3 substantial cakes
● 225g plain flour
● ¾ teasp bicarb
● ½ teasp ground cinnamon or mixed spice
● 125g margarine
● 125g fair-trade muscovado sugar
● 150g honey or golden syrup
● 2 free-range eggs
● 4 tablespoons soya milk
● ½ cooking apple
● Juice and rind of ½ lemon
● 6 dates stoned
● 50g crystallised ginger
● Preheat oven to 170˚C, Gas Mark 3
● Line tin 24cm x 20cm x 4cm
● Sieve the flour with the bicarb and spice. Melt muscovado sugar with marg, honey or golden syrup.
● Cool slightly.
● Process or chop ginger and dates.
● Stir into sugar mixture. Add soya milk to liquids, then eggs.
● Beat mixture. Grate apple adding lemon juice and rind. ● Add to liquid. Combine quickly with flour mixture and pour into baking tin.
● Bake for 1 hour approx.
● Serve hot or cold and enjoy for a sweet, New Year.