The holiday of Purim has some parallels to Passover, and marks the beginning of the 30-day countdown to the Seder. In both cases we retell a time when the Jewish people faced near extermination and were saved. On Purim we read in the Book of Esther, how Haman (the evil vizier of King Ahasuerus) tried to annihilate the Jews and Queen Esther stepped in to save them. During Passover we retell the story of the Book of Exodus when Moses saved our ancestors from the evil Pharoah by bringing us out of Egypt.
Interestingly enough, the original date when Haman first cast his lot (to choose when to destroy the Jews) was the 13th of Nisan, while the 14th of Nisan (the first eve of Passover) was when Queen Esther called for the Jews of Susa to join her in a 3-day fast before appealing to the King to protect her people. (It was later that the fast dates were set to begin on the eve of Purim — the 13th of Adar.)
Food in many Eastern cultures, and especially in Judaism, plays an important role in commemorating particular moments in our history. By consuming matzah —
“the Bread of Affliction” — we relive the story of Passover by recalling when our ancestors fled through the desert without having enough time for the bread to rise. During Purim,
we destroy Haman’s evil plan to kill all the Jews by eating stuffed pastries that symbolize his pocketful of lots (for selecting the date for annihilation), or money (to bribe the king). The most well known Purim pastries in the United States (brought over by German Jews) are called Hamantaschen, meaning, “Haman’s pockets” in Yiddish/German, and while we often see them filled with either prune or apricot filling, the original pastries had poppy seeds, and were based upon popular German cookies called, Mohntaschen (meaning, “poppy seed pockets”).
I decided to prepare Hamantaschen this year as a way to kick off my preparations for Passover, as well as teach my kids how to make them. To give a slight Middle Eastern flavor I added a few teaspoons of orange blossom water to the apricot jam, and I cooked down prunes with dates, cinnamon, and a little sugar for my own homemade prune butter (blending it until very smooth in the food processor). I don’t have a cookie recipe of my own to share, but you can follow one of the hundreds of good ones out there, and try my idea for the fillings.