Next Monday evening marks the beginning of Rosh Hashanah - the New Year festival celebrated by Jews throughout the world. Unlike Passover, where bitter foods are prepared in commemoration of hard times, the Rosh Hashanah table is laden with delicacies representing optimism for a sweet future. No sour or bitter dishes have a place on this joyous table - not even, according to some traditions, nuts, because they might have some tartness to them.
Instead, dishes abound with honey, rasinis, sweet carrots and apples - all seasonal reminders of hope for the coming year.
Rosh Hashanah is a time for self-examination and the commencement of the period of repentance before the day of divine judgement which folows on Yom Kippur, Sept. 22. The shofar, a ram's horn whose tradition in Jewish history stems from the time when God permitted Abraham to subsitute a ram for Isaac as a sacrifice, is sounded on Rosh Hashanah. Blowing the ram's horn is a symbol of the complete faith of Abraham.
My father's family, of German-Jewish heritage, has its own symbolic foods for this festival, many of which have been with out ancestral family in Bavaria for centuries. My mother, born in this country, learned these recipes from my German-born grandmother and aunt. Unlike the tables of Eastern European Jews, our meal does not include such favorites as gefilte fish, tzimmes (sweet carrot casserole) or honey cake. Instead, we serve sweet and sour carp, zwetschgenkuchen (plum pie) and apple streusel, and other dishes.
After the traditional Hebrew blessings over candles and wine, our meal commences with the prayer over the two challahs, the sweet bread representing the double portion of manna which the Israelites ate in the wilderness during their flight from Egypt.
After the blessing over the challah is recited, an apple is dipped in honey and a blessing made asking for a sweet and good year. Fish at Rosh Hashanah and on Friday night represents immortality, fertility and the special relationship between the Jewish people and the Torah. Next on the menu comes chicken soup with nockerln, round dumplings made from flour and egg.
In Germany the main course would have been roast goose with cabbag salad, potatoes and carrots. From this first young goose of the season my grandmother would begin saving the schamltz, or fat, for cooking oil until Passover. (Goose fat was especially useful at Hanukkah to fry the potato pancakes.) In this country my family has substituted roast chicken served with seasonal vegetables including, of course carrots. Carrots, too, have their symbolism at Rosh Hashanah. The German mohrruben, as the Yiddish meyrin for carrots means to "increase or multiply."
o authenticate the dishes handed down from Bavaria. I was fortunate to find the well-worn book of favorite bride almost a hundred years ago. They have stood the test of time and I hope that this yeat you, too will enjoy trying some of them.
SWEET AND SOUR CARP 6 servings 1 carp (3 1/2 pounds), pike, trout or haddock Salt 4 cups water or enough to cover fish 1/2 cup wine vinegar 1 lemon, sliced and seeded 1 medium onion, sliced in rings 1 bay leaf 1 teaspoon peppercorns 1/2 cup raisins 1 tablespoon salt 5 whole colves 1/2 cup brown sugar 4 or 5 gingersnaps or lebkuchen
Clean, slice and salt the entire fish. Let stand overnight or several hours. (My grandmother preferred using winter to summer carp for this dish and always included the head as it adds taste to the sauce.)
Boil together the water, vinegar, lemon, onion, bay leaf, peppercorns, raisins, salt and uncovered for 30 minutes. Then add brown sugar and gingersnaps. Gingersnaps add color to the sauce. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes more until the fish is done. It should be firm to the touch and the flesh should leave the bone.
Remove fish from liquid and take meat from the bones. Arrange on a platter.
Boil liquid 15 minutes longer and let cool. Then strain, removing the onions and raisins from the strainer. Pour the liquid over the fish and garnish with the raisins and onion rings. Refrigerate until the sauce jells. Serve as an appetizer the following day.
CUCUMBER SALAD (4 to 6 Servings) 2 cucumbers 2 tablespoons mayonnaise 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder Salt to taste 1 tablespoon fresh dill (optional)
Peel the cucumbers and slice them paper thin. Sprinkle with salt and place in a colander for 1/2 hour. Wash off the salt with cold water and press to extract the remaining liquid. Mix mayonnaise and mustard and add to the cucumbers. Sprinkle with garlic powder, salt to taste and fresh dill. Mix well Chill.
ZWETSCHGENKUCHEN (Plum Pie) (4 to 6 Servings) 1 cup all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon sugar 1/2 cup margarine or butter 1 egg yolk Salt Brandy
Mix flour and sugar. With a pastry blender cut in margarine or butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the egg yolk, a dash of salt and a dash of brandy to moisten the crust if necessary. Turn the dough onto a board and knead briefly. Then place it in the center of a 9-inch pie plate and with your finger pat it thinly into the bottom and sides. Refrigerate.
Filling: 3 pounds Italian plums, washed and quartered 1/2 cup plum jam 1 tablespoon brandy 1/2 cup sugar 1 teaspoon cinnamon Dash of nutmeg 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread plum jam and a little brandy on the crust. Place the plums in a circle so that each overlaps the other and they form a spiral into the center. Mix the sugar, cinnamom, nutmeg and leomon rind and sprinkle over the plums. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the plums juicy.
PICKLED HERRING WITH CREAM (About 3 cups)
The following recipes is a pleasant way to break the fast of Yom Kippur and comes from the Austro-Hungarian side of my family. 1 jar (13 ounces) herring in wine sauce 1 red oinon, sliced in rings 3/4 cup sour cream 2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice 1 tablespoon sugar
Drain herring and remove onions from jar. Replace the original onion rings with about 5 slices of red onion, broken into rings. Mix in the sour cream, lemon juice and sugar. The amount of sour cream and onion can vary according to taste and number of unexpected guests.
Place in a larger glass container and chill in the refrigerator for a few hours, or overnight. Serve with crackers. This lasts for days.
APPLE STREUSEL (6 Servings) 6 apples (3 pounds), peeled, cored and sliced 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/4 cup orange juice 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 2/3 cup brown sugar 1 egg 4 tablespoons margarine or butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add the sugar, cinnamon and orange juice to the apples. Mix lightly and place in a greased 1 1/2 quart casserole.
Combine the flour and baking powder. Mix the brown sugar and eggs. Add the flour. Cut in the margarine and rub with finger tips to a crumnly consistency. Sprinkle over the apple mixture and bake 45 minutes or until the apples are tender and the crust golden brown.