By Abby Contract
Life is messy and full of surprises. How many times have you thought that your life was going one way and it u-turned into something more splendid and meaningful? Perhaps a situation that you thought would be easy turned out to be ridiculously hard? Yet, all of your hard work had unexpected, hidden meaning that made you a better person.
This happened to Queen Esther of the fifth century BCE who saved the Jewish people from annihilation. To make a long story short, Queen Esther convinced her husband, the Persian King Ahasuerus, to overwrite a decree put forth by his anti-Semitic Prime Minister Haman to massacre all of the Jews.
Queen Esther didn’t really want the job of saving the Jews. She was just a pretty face who because of happenstance and her good looks was chosen by the King to replace his earlier, disobedient wife. Esther, whose Hebrew name has the root “saiter,” meaning “concealment,” was far from forthcoming and hid her Jewish identity. When her Uncle Mordecai first asked Esther to go to the King, she – without hesitation – said no because she wanted to save her own life. Mordecai countered with, “Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then will relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father’s house will perish; and who knoweth whether thou art not come to royal estate for such a time as this?” Basically, he says to her, ” get over yourself” because once her identity as a Jew is known, that she’ll die anyway with all of her fellow Jews And, then he points out that perhaps there is a hidden, deeper reason why she was chosen to live in the inner sanctum of the king.
The entire plot of the Megillat Esther is full of twists, turns and many levels of hidden meanings, even with the food thought to be eaten during the story. According to the Talmud, in order to avoid eating non-kosher food while living in the royal court, Esther ate seeds. This may relate to the poppy seeds of the Hamantaschen, or “Haman’s pockets,” the traditional cookie eaten during Purim. Most likely, the word Hamantaschen is a spin-off of Mohntaschen or “poppy seed pockets,” which is derived from two German words: mohn (poppy seed) and taschen (pockets). On another level, according to the prominent Rabbi Alshich of the 16th century, Mordecai hid numerous messages to the Jews about Haman and Ahasuerus’s massacre plans in the dough of pastries.
Flash forward all these years . . . . Here in the Philadelphia-area, there are a plethora of places to buy Hamantaschen from the grocery stores to smaller, independent bakeries. One of my favorites is Lipkin’s (http://lipkinsbakery.com), a third-generation bakery on Castor Avenue where you can purchase kosher, pareve Hamantaschen in innovative as well as the more traditional flavors of prune, poppyseed, and apricot. The bakery definitely looked third generation, but the Hamantaschen were first rate and worth the calories.
But, no matter how delicious or convenient, store-bought Hamantaschen can be, nothing beats homemade. And, nothing is better than a kitchen full of friends of all ages baking together. A bunch of us baked two batches of my favorite, traditional recipes for Hamantaschen, which I first clipped out of the Washington Post in 1996. The kids filled the Hamantaschen with prune, strawberry, chocolate kisses, and peanut butter and chip, and even combined the chocolate with the plain dough to create more creative cookies. Yes, my kitchen was messy – covered with flour and filling – but, there was no hidden meaning – we were having fun and celebrating the Jewish tradition of Purim.
Adapted from The Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/…
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup orange juice
1 cup butter
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
Refrigerate the dough for 10 minutes.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface.
Mix 1 egg with 1 tablespoon of water into egg wash.
Cut out circles of dough with a cookie cutter.
Brush the dough with egg wash.
Place one tablespoon of the jarred filling of your choice.
Pinch the edges shut to form a triangle.
Brush the Hamantaschen with egg wash.
Bake for about 20 minutes, until the Hamantaschen are golden-brown.
Abby Contract is the creator of Phoodhistory http://phoodistory.wordpress.c… a celebration of Philly’s fanatical history with food.