No other Jewish holiday has as many symbolic foods associated with it as Rosh Hashanah, and honey plays a prominent role. At the beginning of the festive meal, apple slices are dipped in honey, symbolizing sweetness for the coming year. Raisin-studded challahs are sweetened with honey rather than sugar, often topped with a sweet crumb streusel-type mixture rather than the usual sesame or poppy seeds. From Rosh Hashanah until after Sukkot, many households dip the first piece of challah into honey instead of the customary salt.
Some of the other special foods that are served for Rosh Hashanah and what they symbolize are as follows:
Carrots (mehren) or fenugreek (that we should increase our merits); leeks or cabbage (that our enemies be decimated); beets (that our adversaries be removed); dates (that our enemies be consumed); gourds (that the decree of our sentence should be torn asunder and our merits be proclaimed to G-d); pomegranate (that our merits increase, as the seeds of the pomegranate); fish (that we should be fruitful and multiply); the head of a fish or a sheep’s head (that we should be as a head and not a tail).
Other customs include serving golden chicken soup studded with carrot coins so that we may have a golden year; a plate of vegetables so that we may have a year of abundance and plenty, and a round, coiled challah (also called a feigel). Some people take a stalk of celery and some raisins and prior to eating them, they request G-d to help them get a ‘raise in salary.’
Nuts are avoided because they have a tendency to lodge in the throat, making proper prayer difficult and also because they have the same numerical equivalent in Hebrew as sin, which we are trying to avoid. Almonds are usually acceptable. Some people won’t use vinegar or mustard to avoid sour or sharp flavors.
Honey cake (lekach) was a traditional staple in our family for the High Holidays. My late mother would pride herself on the height and lightness of her honey cake which she baked in a tube pan. Mom would never buy her honey cake at the bakery – she declared that it was too dry and lacking in taste. She preferred to use buckwheat honey, with its more intense flavor and dark color. Tea was her liquid of choice – never coffee. No raisins, no dried fruits – just honey, eggs, oil, flour, spices and leavening. I was usually sent outside to play while the cake was baking – “so it wouldn’t fall!”
Here are some of my favorite dishes using honey to ensure you’ll have an especially sweet and healthy New Year!
These are excellent as either an appetizer or a main course. The recipe makes a big batch so is ideal if you’re having a crowd. You can also make them in the slow cooker (see below) so they’re hot and ready to serve when your family and guests return from synagogue.
Your guests will gobble this up! If a rolled turkey breast isn’t available, use an unrolled turkey breast, allowing 20 to 25 minutes per pound. If you can’t find one large turkey breast, use 2 smaller ones. Use an instant read thermometer to prevent overcooking.
Quick, easy and delicious! This is perfect for the Jewish holidays.
-Norene Gilletz is the leading author of kosher cookbooks in Canada. She is the author of nine cookbooks and divides her time between work as a food writer, culinary consultant, spokesperson, cooking instructor, lecturer and editor. Norene lives in Toronto, Canada and her motto is “Food that’s good for you should taste good!” For more information, visit her website at www.gourmania.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.