Yay! It’s the first day of spring. Finally! We’ve had several days of sun and 40-plus degree weather. I think the warm weather is finally on its way and I’m ready for it.
In addition to Spring springing, Purim also begins this evening. Purim is a Jewish holiday, celebrated from sunset to nightfall of the next day. The celebration of Purim dates back to the reign of the Persian King Ahasuerus (likely the king now known as Xerxes I, or Artaxerxes I). The Jewish holiday celebrates the delivery of the Jewish people from genocide by the hand of the King’s royal vizier, Haman, as well as the bravery of Queen Esther.
According to the book of Esther in the Jewish Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) and the Christian Old Testament, King Ahasuerus chose a beautiful young woman named Esther as his second wife, after his first wife, Vashti, disobeyed him at a festival. Esther, therefore, became Queen of Persia. However, Ahasuerus did not know that the woman he had chosen as his bride was a Jewish orphan, living with her cousin and guardian, Mordecai, in exile.
After the marriage of Esther and Ahasuerus, Mordecai discovered a plot by two of the King’s eunuchs, who were plotting the King’s death. Mordecai, through Esther, exposed their plan, and was rewarded by the King.
But tensions rose in the court when Mordecai refused to bow to the King’s vizier, Haman. The King had decreed that everyone should bow before the vizier and, when Mordecai refused, Haman the vizier was enraged. Subsequently, the vizier discovered that Mordecai and Esther were Jewish, and he began plotting the extermination of all the exiled Jews in the kingdom. Haman even went so far as to have gallows erected specifically for executing Mordecai. But Mordecai discovered Haman’s plot in time, and used Esther’s favor with her husband to sway the King. Esther was hesitant to approach the King without him summoning her, as the act was punishable by death. Realizing that she may die if she went to the King, but that she might save the rest of her people, she went to Ahasuerus, unsummoned. The King did not kill her, and instead granted her request of attending a dinner party, along with Haman. At the dinner party, Esther invited them to a second party, set to take place the following day. It was at this second dinner that Esther, realizing that she had the favor of the King, exposed Haman’s plot to destroy the Jewish people, as well as her own identity as a Jewish woman. The King, realizing that his wife would be killed as part of Haman’s plan, and also remembering Esther and Mordecai’s involvement in exposing the plot of his assassination earlier, instead decided to execute Haman on the same gallows that he had erected for Mordecai.
Purim takes place on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, said to be celebrated after the 13th day, which Haman chose as the Jews’ execution day. Purim takes its name from the purims, or lots, that Haman drew to determine which day to massacre the Jews.
Jews celebrate their victory over Haman by holding festivals and large meals, wearing costumes, and reciting the Megilah, or the Book of Esther, and sharing food.
For today’s recipe, I made a traditional pastry associated with the holiday of Purim: hamantaschen, which is translated literally to “Haman’s ears.” However, tasche also means pocket or pouch in German, and it is commonly thought that this refers to the money that Haman offered the King to exterminate the Jewish people. In Hebrew, tash means “weaken,” which may reference the celebration of the weakening of Haman. Traditionally filled with poppy seeds, these cookies have been eaten in association with Purim since at least the 1500s.
Ginger Pear Hamantaschen
Makes 20-24 hamantaschen.
3 3/4 cups pear, peeled, seeded, and chopped finely
1 1/3 cups white sugar
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
4 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsps freshly zested ginger root
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 – 2 1/2 cups flour, plus more for rolling dough
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg white, beaten and mixed with a splash of water to make an egg wash
For filling: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the pear, sugar lemon zest, lemon juice, and ginger root.
Place over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens, about 30-45 minutes. You can mash the fruit with the back of a spoon as it begins to soften.
Allow to cool to room temperature, then pour into a sanitized jar and refrigerate.
For cookie: In a medium bowl, sift together 2 1/4 cups flour, salt, and baking soda.
Add butter and sugar to a large bowl and beat until very smooth and almost completely white in color, about five minutes.
Add the lemon zest, vanilla, and egg, and beat until just incorporated.
Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture in three batches, beating each batch until it’s just incorporated. If the mixture is very sticky, you can add the remaining 1/4 cup of flour.
After you’ve added all the flour, begin pulling the mixture together into a ball. It may look a bit dry at first, but should come together. There may be some crumbs and that is OK.
Wrap the ball with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 1/2 hours, or as long as overnight.
Once refrigerated, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8-inch thick.
Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Using a 2- or 3-inch round cookie cutter, punch out as many circles as you can. Feel free to re-roll the scraps to punch out more circles.
Beat together egg white and water.
Using a pastry brush, cover the top of each circle with egg wash. Add about 1 1/2 – 2 tsp of ginger pear filling to each cookie. Fold three sides of the circle up to form a triangle. Place on cookie sheet at least 1-inch apart. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly golden brown at the edges.
Remove from oven to a cooling rack and cool.
Food is an excellent way to celebrate ritual and tradition over many generations, and this humble cookie is one such recipe. I hope you love it. Chag Purim Sameach!