It’s just a few days before Purim. Have you baked your Hamentaschen yet?
It’s easy to love these delicate, filled cookies. And in our heads, while we’re munching them, their history floats around: a story going back over 2000 years, of Jewish resistance and triumph over tyranny. They’re cookies full of cultural and historical significance – as well as sweet fruit or poppy seed or nut fillings.
And they’re so good, you forget all that, and just reach for another, and another. They go really well with a cup of coffee.
Call them by their Yiddish name, Hamentaschen, or by their Hebrew name, Oznei Haman. The Yiddish translates as “Haman’s pockets” and the Hebrew, according to the legend that the villain Haman had triangular ears, translates as “Haman’s ears.”
One interpretation says that the hidden filling corresponds to Queen Esther’s hidden Jewish identity, which she only revealed to King Ahasuerus at the dramatic moment when she denounced Haman and his plot to murder her people. The Megillah (Purim story) is full of secrets. But the secrets of delicious Hamentaschen have been known for a very long time.
To all who celebrate Purim, Hamentaschen raise cheerful memories of kids zooming around the streets in their Purim costumes, of strolling around the neighborhood carrying baskets full of goodies for friends, of opening the door to some cute little Mordechai or Queen Esther who hands you a Purim basket from their family, squeaking “Happy Purim!” while their Dad nods and smiles behind.
Because their Mom is obviously at home fixing last-minute baskets up to reciprocate, keeping an eye on the meal cooking for the Purim feast, separating the candies and junk food received and putting them away, in hopes of avoiding the kids’ wild sugar high this year. Amazing how the day after Purim, almost all Israeli kids feel exhausted and hung over.
Well, even I, mean and evil Mommy who threw out the candies, couldn’t keep my brood’s hands off the sugary treats.
Now my kids are all grown up, and bring their own little ones to show off their costumes and feast with us. So this week I’m shopping and writing out menus and above all, I’m baking and freezing Hamentaschen.
These cookies are easy, and made easier because you can fill them with purchased fillings. Pie filling or any firm jam work very well to fill them. I’ve adapted the cookie recipe to the food processor, but in the past, I’ve made it by hand, many times. If that’s what you’re doing, proceed in the order given and mix away.
I’m including a recipe for the hand-made filling I like. Just because. Just in case. Because anything home-made is better.
And because I think this recipe must be at least one hundred years old. These old-fashioned recipes are dying out, as cooks prefer to use jam or other pre-cooked products. I present this one to you as a heritage recipe, one that needs no adaptation to our own days and still tastes delicious.
It calls for 1/2 cup each raisins, pitted prunes and dried apricots. You can use 1 – 1/2 cup of a single dried fruit instead if you like. For an Israeli touch, use all dates; you can buy a block of date paste in the grocery stores here. Dates are too sweet for me, but then many people love a very sweet filling.
The filling recipe comes from Jewish Cookery by Leah W. Leonard, publication date unknown. It’s my late Dad’s yellowed, beat-up, falling-apart edition that bears his signature and the year 1954 in his handwriting, on the inside cover. On the opposite page is the author’s dedication, which I love. (The author also refers to her “long-suffering husband” in the acknowledgments.)
The modern cookie dough recipe is detailed after the filling.
Old-Fashioned, Cooked, Dried Fruit Hamentaschen Filling
1/2 cup each chopped, pitted prunes, chopped dried apricots and raisins
1/2 cup dry bread or cake crumbs
1 tablespoon grated lemon or orange rind
4 tablespoons honey
Combine the ingredients and heat over boiling water until the honey melts. Mix and remove from heat.
Use as filling when cold. If too thick, add lemon juice (modern variation: try a teaspoon or two of sweet wine or brandy, rum or gin). If not thick enough, add more crumbs.
Purim sameach – a happy Purim! And may we receive good news of redemption from Jerusalem, as the Jews of the ancient world heard from Esther and Mordechai in the palace of Ahasuerus.
Have something to say about this post? Please click on the word REVIEW below and you’ll find yourself in a place where you can comment. So do comment, I love to hear from you.