For most Jews the Passover holiday is the last thing on anyone’s mind in October and November, but for some individuals this is exactly the time to start preparing for the holiday. Late fall is when wheat grains will be milled into flour meant for matzah, and in one of my first posts to this blog, I noted how the legendary Streit’s matzah factory on the Lower East Side would begin their methodical cleaning of the factory at this period of time in order to start producing Passover matzahs for the spring. In many countries around the world, grapes are now being harvested for bottles of wine that will be sitting at our tables months from now as well. In the following account, one young woman reminisces about a childhood tradition while growing up in her home country of Georgia:
“In the fall season preceding Passover, my father would make the wine. We had a cellar where he would keep a giant wooden vat and fill with kilos upon kilos of grapes. My brother, sister, and I would put on these special very tall boots and stomp up and down on the grapes to make the juice for the wine. Then my father would turn this handle on the side that would separate the skins somehow, and empty the juice into a bucket. He would pour this juice into huge glass containers shaped similar to bottles and ferment it into wine specifically for Passover in the spring. I love those memories, and I can still hear our giggling.”
— Irina Kazhiloti
Passover and the spring season may be months away in time, but the matzah and wine for your Seder are already underway.
Today is Tu B’shevat, the Jewish holiday celebrating the new year of the tree in Israel, marking the beginning of its fruit bearing cycle. In order to connect us to nature (and Israel) it is customary to incorporate 7 specific fruits and grains that represent the main crops of the Holy Land. It has also become the tradition of donating a young tree to be planted in Israel, while some may even take this opportunity to plant one in their own backyard in honor of a loved one. With a little digging of my own online, I discovered that in the 1600s Kabbalists (Jewish mystics) would serve a festive meal similar to a Seder using specific fruits, nuts, and grains to symbolize nature, life, and God.
The following is a list of the main fruits that are consumed for this holiday, along with some suggestions of others you can add:
MAIN 5 FRUITS:
DATES & DATE SYRUP OR HONEY
MAIN 2 GRAINS:
WALNUTS, ALMONDS, HAZELNUTS, PISTACHIOS (& NUT BUTTERS)
APPLES, PEARS, QUINCES, APRICOTS (& SAUCE OR JUICE)
QUINOA, BULGUR, FREEKEH, OATS
The following links were helpful references about Tu b’Shevat and the Seder plate:
By Rabbi Amy Scheinerman
From Libya to Georgia, several individuals described to me the process of making their own special wine or unfermented grape juice for the Passover holiday. Some said that as children they couldn’t wait to stomp on the fresh grapes that were used to make actual wine, while others remembered helping their mothers or grandmothers combine dried grapes (raisins) with sugar and water to create a syrupy treat. Either way, it was a great activity for kids who looked forward to it year after year, and a new tradition that I started with my two girls this Passover.
Yield: Serves 12 / Makes 12 eight-ounce cups
1 1/2 pounds golden raisins (black raisins may be substituted)
20 cups cold water
3 cups sugar
3 to 4 cinnamon sticks, about 4 inches long each
1. Soak the raisins with the cold water in a large pot for 12 hours or overnight, covered.
2. Bring pot of soaked raisins with the sugar and cinnamon sticks to a boil over high heat.
3. Reduce to a medium heat and slow boil until the liquid reduces by about a third,
approximately 2 1/2 hours.
4. Remove from heat and cool completely before pouring into two large pitchers.
Chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or preferably 12 hours or overnight.
Drink will keep in refrigerator for up to 1 week.
©Jennifer Felicia Abadi: www.TooGoodToPassover.com / jabadi@FistfulofLentils.com