Sephardic Tu b’Shevat Confection

photo (2)Sephardic families are known for their tradition of hospitality toward friends, neighbors, and even strangers. During Tu b’Shevat, some Turkish Jews prepare a special dessert called trigo koço. “Trigo” means “wheat” in Spanish. This sweet wheat berry dish originated in the Middle East, and traveled with the Jews to Spain. Following the expulsion from Spain in 1492, the Jews took it with them to the Ottoman Empire. To this day, every guest who stops by for a Tu b’Shevat visit at their home is offered a bowl of trigo koço with a cup of hot mint tea.

Trigo Koço

  • 1 1/4 cup wheat berries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. orange blossom water
  • 2 tbsp. rose water
  • 1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Walnuts
  1. Pour the wheat berries and 4 cups of water into a heavy pot.
  2. Bring the water to a boil, and then lower the flame.
  3. Allow the wheat to simmer for 1 hour.
  4. Turn off the heat, and stir in the sugar, cinnamon, orange blossom water, and rose water.
  5. Serve garnished with walnuts.

Tahini-Carrot Cake for Tu B’Shvat

— by Ronit Treatman

During the holiday of Tu B’Shvat, the “New Year of the Trees,” it is always freezing in Philadelphia. I enjoy celebrating with foods that incorporate dry fruits and nuts, to honor the trees, and in hopes that spring will arrive soon.  

One of Israel’s most creative chefs, Yaron Albalak, has created a cake for Tu B’Shvat which is infused with the flavors of Israel’s trees. Almond extract, date honey, dried apricots and pistachio nuts pay homage to the bounty nature has blessed us with.  

This moist, delicious cake pairs perfectly with a cup of hot tea.

Full recipe after the jump.
Tahini-Carrot Cake — Adapted from chef Yaron Albalak

For the batter:

  • 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur or almond extract
  • 1/2 cup raw tahini paste
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured dry apricots, chopped
  • 2 cups carrots, grated
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the garnish:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place all of the ingredients for the batter in a bowl, and mix well.
  3. Pour into an oiled Bundt pan.
  4. Bake for 50 minutes. (Check the cake with a wooden toothpick. If necessary, allow to bake longer.)
  5. Drizzle the cake with Silan date honey, garnish with shaved halva and pistachios.  

Honi The Circle Maker’s Carob Delicacies

— by Ronit Treatman

One of the most beloved stories told during Tu B’Shevat is that of Honi The Circle Maker Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit, 23a.

Honi was a great teacher who lived in Ancient Israel. He was known for drawing a circle on the ground and then praying inside it. He would not leave the circle until he was done.  

One day, he came upon an old man holding a shovel and a tiny sapling. Honi asked the old man, “Why are you planting this small tree? How long will it be before it can bear fruit for you to eat?”

The old man responded, “This is a carob tree. It will take seventy years for it to give fruit.”  

“Then why plant it?” Honi asked. “You will not live to enjoy it!”

The rest of the story and two carob recipes after the jump.

The old man responded, “When I was a young boy, I ate the fruit from the carob tree that my grandfather had planted. Now I am planting a carob tree for my grandchildren.”  

Honi smiled and continued on his way to teach at his Beit Midrash. Honi was very tired. He decided to rest for a while. Honi made himself comfortable on some grass, and watched the old man finish planting the carob tree. Honi closed his eyes and slept. He slept for seventy years! When he woke up, he saw a boy picking ripe carob pods from a large tree.  

Honi asked the boy, “Who planted this tree?”

“My great-grandfather,” replied the boy.

Honi understood what the old man was doing all those years ago. Each generation needs to take care of nature and leave a legacy of trees for those to come.  

Tasting treats made with carob during the Tu B’Shevat Seder is just as much fun as recounting this story. I like to use carob “honey.” This is the thick syrup that forms inside the carob pod when it is ripe. You may purchase carob syrup here.

Dibs Kharoub U Tahineh: Tahini and Carob Spread
This is a very ancient Middle Eastern recipe, the Biblical peanut butter and jelly.

  • Raw Tahini (available here)
  • Carob Syrup
  1. Mix one tablespoon of tahini with one tablespoon of carob syrup.  
  2. Spread over fresh, hot pita bread.

One of the most exotic eggplant dishes I have ever tried is a meze traditionally served in Turkey, Syria, and Jordan. It is made with grilled eggplant, almonds, and carob honey.

Adapted from The Middle Eastern Kitchen by Ghillie Bassan

  • 2 eggplants
  • 2 tablespoons carob syrup
  • 3 tablespoons roasted, chopped almonds
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 chili pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 lemon, squeezed
  • 3 tablespoons plain yogurt (labneh is best)
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh, chopped mint leaves

  1. Roast the eggplants until they become soft.
  2. Allow the eggplants to cool to room temperature.
  3. Cut the eggplants in half, and scoop out the flesh.
  4. Mash the eggplant.
  5. Mix in all the other ingredients.
  6. Serve with fresh, hot pita bread.

Dazzling Tree Photo Exhibit

Tal Shochat, Rimon (Pomegranate), 2010, C-Print, 48.25 x 51 inches, Courtesy of Andrea Meislin Gallery, N.Y.

— by Hannah Lee

Just in time for Tu B’Shevat (the Jewish New Year of Trees) on February 8th, the The National Museum of American Jewish History is featuring an exhibit of prints of trees from the “In Praise of a Dream” series by Israeli artist Tal Shochat.

The exhibit developed through a confluence of motives.  One was an intent to creatively use a long wall in their downstairs gallery to bring in visitors, who could then explore the many artistic and historical artifacts in the new museum, which opened in November, 2010.  At the time, the Andrea Meislin Gallery in Chelsea, New York was exhibiting Shochat’s work.  The Chief Curator and Director of Exhibitions and Collections, Dr. Joshua Perelman (not the grandson of the same name of the philanthropists Ruth and Raymond Perelman) arranged for a loan of seven of the largest prints in the series, which will be on display through Earth Day, April 22nd.

More after the jump.
For Dr. Perelman, this has been a dream job, coming from New York six years ago to help plan for the new museum, and he now supervises a team of seven curators, registrars, and exhibit technicians.  He’s planning additional displays for the concourse wall and more information will become ready when this series moves on.

Shochat’s prints are of real trees in real settings.  She picks her specimens and waits until the perfect moment to photograph them.  She sprays the trees with water to make them sparkle, and she also enhances the lighting and adds a black backdrop.  The size of the trees seem remarkably short, when comparing the size of the fruits to the trunks.

Tal Shochat has had solo shows at the Rosenfeld Gallery in Tel Aviv, where she lives, the Herzliya Museum of Art, and the Haifa Museum of Art.  Her work is on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and the Shpilman Institute of Photography in Tel Aviv.  Patrons interested in acquiring Shochat’s prints could contact the Andrea Meislin Gallery at [email protected].

The National Museum of American Jewish History is located at 101 South Independence Mall East in Philadelphia.  It is open Tuesday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Saturday – Sunday, 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

The Philadelphia Tu B’Shevat Adventure

Orange Tree

— by Ronit Treatman

What do April 15th and the Shevat 15th have in common? Both are tax days! Two thousand years ago, the 15th of Shevat was when the twelve Hebrew tribes paid tithes to the Levites in Jerusalem. Tu B’Shevat, the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat, is described in the Mishnah as the New Year for Trees. During the times of the Temple, fruit tithes would be calculated beginning on Tu B’Shevat. Fruit that grew on trees after the fifteenth day of Shevat was counted for the tithes that were due the following year. These tithes supported the Levites, helped feed the poor, and paid for Tu B’Shevat festivities in Jerusalem.

Following the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, the Jews were exiled from Israel, and tithes were no longer paid. The Jews in the Diaspora preserved the memory of Tu B’Shevat by remembering their connection to the Land of Israel. In the Jewish communities of Bukhara, Uzbekistan, and Kurdistan, Tu B’Shevat developed into the “day of eating the seven species.” The seven species are the seven fruits and grains that are listed in the Torah as special products of the Land of Israel. In the 16th century Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the famous mystic of Safed, and his students collaborated to create the Tu B’Shevat Seder. The observance of Tu B’Shevat has undergone many permutations
since that time.

How can you and your family enjoy this ancient holiday in present day Philadelphia?

Some hands-on ideas to bring your families the warming spirit of Tu B’Shevat this winter follow the jump.

Seven Species

The Longwood Gardens Seven Species Scavenger Hunt

This year, Tu B’Shevat begins on February 7th, at sunset, and extends through the daylight of February 8th. This holiday presents a great opportunity to visit Longwood Gardens. The outdoor gardens will probably be covered with snow, so the half mile long hothouse will be your main destination. The conservatory, built in 1919, resembles a crystal palace. As you step inside, you will be transported to a place where spring has already arrived. The warm air will envelop you. Your family will inhale the aroma of a garden in full bloom, see the beautiful colors of the plants, and hear the rustle of leaves and dripping of water as they explore the greenhouse. It will be fun to look for some of the seven species in the gardens. As is mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8, the Land of Israel is described as a “land of wheat and barley, of [grape] vines, figs and pomegranates, and a land of olives for oil and [date] honey.” Here is a guide to help you find them.

Olive Tree

Grape Vines

Olives: In Biblical times, olive oil was very important for cooking, as a fuel for lamps, and for preparing soap. There is an olive tree in the Silver Garden.

Grapes: The Estate Fruit House has grape vines. In ancient times in the Land of Israel, grapes were used to make wine and vinegar. The fruit was eaten fresh off the vine. The grape leaves were used in cooking.

Figs at the Vine

Pomegranate Tree

Figs: A fig tree grows in The Estate Fruit House. Figs were eaten fresh, and used in cooking in Biblical Israel. Fig honey and alcohol were made from them.

Pomegranates: A miniature pomegranate tree (with tiny red pomegranates!) may be found in the Bonsai Display. In ancient Israel, pomegranates were used to make wine. Pomegranate juice was used as a dye. They were also a popular snack fresh off the tree.




Dates: The wild date palm grows in the Palm House. Dates were eaten fresh or dry during Biblical times. They were made into honey. It is thought that when the Land of Israel was described as a “land flowing with milk and honey,” it meant date honey, not bees’ honey.

Wheat and Barley: Wheat was used to bake bread in ancient Israel. It was the staple of the people’s diet. Barley was used to cook porridge and barley cakes. Poor people relied on barley more than on wheat, since it was more plentiful. It was also fed to the cows and goats. Wheat and barley do not grow in the greenhouses of Longwood Gardens! I suggest planning in advance and ordering a bundle of wheat and a bundle of barley from Curious Country Creations.

You can bring these plants with you, and your family may admire them during the visit to Longwood Gardens. Then, the wheat and barley may be part of your Tu B’Shevat Seder decorations!

You can inform yourself about the plants that these fruits of the seven species come from, and admire their beauty at Longwood Gardens. After learning about all these beautiful plants by seeing, smelling, and sometimes touching them, it is time to go home and taste some of them! The way to do that is with a Tu B’Shevat feast!

Tu b’Shvat Seder

The Tu B’Shevat Seder

The first Tu B’Shevat Haggadah was called Pri Etz Hadar” or “Fruit of the Goodly Tree” in Hebrew. It was published in 1753. This Tu B’Shevat Seder was modeled on the Passover Seder. This Seder consisted of a festive meal that celebrated the Kabalistic diagram of the Tree of Life. The original purpose of the Seder was to restore G-d’s blessing by repairing and strengthening the Tree of Life. The traditional concluding blessing of the Tu B’Shevat Seder is “May all the sparks scattered by our hands, or by the hands of our ancestors, or by the sin of the first human against the fruit of the tree, be returned and included in the majestic might of the Tree of Life.” Fruits grown in Israel were served at the Seder and were related to the Four Worlds or “planes of existence” in the Kabbalah. These are Emanation, Creation, Formation, and Action, which are like the roots, trunk, branches, and leaves of a tree. Four cups of wine, symbolizing the four seasons, were also served. Participants read Biblical passages that discussed trees, sang songs about trees and nature, and danced dances inspired by trees. Almonds were important to this Seder because almond trees are the first to blossom in the springtime in Israel. The Kabbalists called this Seder the “Feast of Fruits. Turkish Jews called it “Frutikas Seder,” and referred to Tu B’Shevat as “Frutikas.”  You can follow the first published Tu B’Shevat Seder in your own home.

Almond Tree Blossoms

The Tu B’Shevat Seder was first embraced by the Sephardic Jews, and then by the Ashkenazi Jews. The Ashkenazi Jews developed the custom of eating fifteen different fruits in honor of the “Tu” (15 in Hebrew) in “Tu B’Shevat.” It became a tradition to serve carob, a hardy fruit that could travel well from Israel to Europe. Eating etrog (citron) from Sukkot that was either candied or preserved was another custom that developed. In the late 19th century the Zionist pioneers arrived to cultivate the land of Israel. Israel’s ecology had been harmed by many years of war, extirpation of trees, and desertification. In 1890, Rabbi Zeev Yavetz and his students planted trees in Zichron Yaakov in honor of Tu B’Shevat. The Jewish National Fund adopted this custom to help with the reforestation of Israel. Most recently, Tu B’Shevat has become the Jewish Earth Day. Nature, ecology, and environmentalism are celebrated.

In honor of the Tu B’Shevat Seder, your family may have fun making your home look and feel festive, with a tablecloth, some flowers, and the bunches of wheat and barley on the table. Red and white grape juice should be available. The juice should be served as indicated by the Tu B’Shevat Seder Hagaddah of your choice. Several links to free Hagaddas are provided below.

All of the Tu B’Shevat Hagaddot require the following cups of juice:

  • The First Cup: White grape juice, to symbolize winter.
  • The Second Cup: 2/3 cup white grape juice and 1/3 cup red grape juice, to symbolize a progression to spring.
  • The Third Cup: 1/3 cup white grape juice and 2/3 cup red grape juice, to symbolize spring.
  • The Fourth Cup: Red grape juice, to symbolize summer.

Fifteen types of fruit should be arranged on the table:


Autumn Red Peaches
  • Fruit that is hard on the outside and soft on the inside:
    • Pecans
    • Almonds
    • Coconuts
    • Walnuts
  • Soft fruit with a pit in the middle:
    • Olives
    • Peaches
    • Cherries
    • Plums
    • Dates

    Ripe Carobs

    Fragaria Stawberry
  • Fruits with and inner pit and a tough skin:
    • Avocado
    • Carob
    • Pomegranate
    • Mango
    • Orange
  • Fruit is that which is soft on the inside and outside, and is entirely edible:
    • Grape
    • Fig
    • Strawberry
    • Raisin

You may display a picture of an almond tree in full bloom to learn about the first blossoms of spring in Israel. It is customary to serve a dinner which incorporates fruits and nuts in all of its courses.  Here is a sephardic recipe which includes all seven species.

Sephardic Seven Species Pilaf

  • 1 cup cooked barley
  • 1 cup cooked wheat berries
  • 1/2  cup cut up dried figs
  • 1/2 cup cut up dried dates
  • 1/2 cup sliced grapes
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Some very good recipes are available at Aish. There are many other recipes that may be found on the Internet. Following are links to some free Tu B’Shevat Seder Haggadahs that are available online. Many more may be found.

Plant A Tree

Following a visit to Longwood Gardens, and a Tu B’Shevat Seder feast, there is an opportunity to plant a seed and nurture a plant. It is too cold in January to plant a tree in Philadelphia. Your family can plant a tree in Israel with the Jewish National Fund. There is a delightful new tradition that you may adopt. You may plant parsley seeds in a pot. Then water ther seeds, give them plant food, and make sure that they are exposed to enough sunlight. If all goes well, in April, you will have a parsley plant that may be used for Karpas (green spring vegetable) in the Passover Seder.

From Seder to Seder, may it be a fruitful year of joyful celebrations!

Nature’s Sweets For Tu B’Shevat

Assorted Fruit-Nut Balls. (Photo courtesy of

— by Ronit Treatman

Nut-fruit balls are nature’s perfect treat for Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year for trees.  These sweet and crunchy confections are also known as Sugar Plums in Europe, where they are a traditional Christmas treat.  The earliest known recipes for these candies hail from Ancient Egypt.  Dates, apricots, coffee, rice, lemons, sugar, and ginger did not arrive in Europe until after the Crusades.  Fruit-Nut confections have been enjoyed during Tu B’Shevat since before the first century BCE.  I like to celebrate Tu B’Shevat by indulging in all natural fruit and nut treats.  This is my way of showcasing the abundance provided by trees.

Recipes after the jump.  

Egyptian Ostracon from the British Museum

The oldest Egyptian recipe for “date candy” was deciphered from an ostracon from 1600 BCE.  Here is its translation.

Ancient Egyptian Date Candy

  • 1-cup fresh dates or ½ cup dried dates
  • ½ cup toasted, ground walnuts
  • ½ cup toasted, ground almonds
  • ½ cup of warm raw honey
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom

Mash the dates, walnuts, cinnamon, and cardamom with a mortar and pestle.  Shape the paste into walnut sized balls with your fingers.  Dip the balls into the warm honey, and then roll in the ground almonds to coat.

The following Sephardic recipes are adapted from The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden.  These traditional Tu B’Shevat recipes are vegan, gluten-free, and diabetic friendly.  They are very tactile, and require no cooking.  

North African Date-Walnut Balls

  • 1 Lb. dried dates
  • 2 ½ cups toasted, chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup toasted, ground walnuts

Place the dates in a food processor.  Grind them into a paste, adding a little cold water if necessary.

When the dates are transformed into a paste, mix in the chopped walnuts.

Rub a little olive oil into your hands.  This will prevent the paste from sticking to your fingers.  Shape the paste into little balls.

Roll the date-nut balls in the ground walnuts to garnish.

Syrian Apricot-Pistachio Balls

  • 1 Lb. dried apricots
  • ½ cup toasted, chopped pistachios
  • ½ cup toasted, ground pistachios

Prepare in the same manner as above for the Date – Walnut Balls.

The following recipe is from Jewish Spain.  It is a celebration of the almond, the first tree that blooms in Israel in the springtime.  

Judeo-Spanish Dates Stuffed With Marzipan

  • Pitted dried dates
  • 5 ½ cups toasted, ground almonds
  • ½ lemon
  • 3 drops of almond extract
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1-cup water

Bring to a boil the water, sugar, and juice of ½ lemon in a saucepan.  Allow to boil for about 10 minutes.  Add the almond extract and ground almonds.  Stir well for about 3 minutes.  

Lubricate your hands with a little olive oil, so the paste does not stick to your fingers.

Stuff the dates with the almond paste.

Those of us celebrating Tu B’Shevat in the United States can have fun preparing fruit and nut balls from plants that are indigenous to North America.  The following recipe is subtly accentuated by the addition of brandy.

All American Fruit And Nut Balls

  • ½ cup toasted pecans
  • ½ cup toasted hazelnuts
  • ½ cup dried blueberries
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons brandy

Combine all the above ingredients in a food processor.  Shape into little balls.  Roll around in a mixture of toasted, finely ground hazelnuts.  

Tu B’Shevat in Israel is a time of revitalization as the longer and warmer days of spring arrive.  Rejoice the rebirth of the trees by enjoying confections made from their fruit. May this holiday mark the start of renewal and growth for us all.