A very special season is upon Jews as it is upon Humboldt County. Just when the cycle that completes the Jewish calendar marks the onset of the High Holy Days, we are dab smack in the middle of our glorious Northern California harvest. The Farmers' Markets burst with colorful fruits and vegetables, grains and herbs, as home gardens and berry bushes overflow. What better way to celebrate than with the bounty of this exquisite land where we are blessed to dwell?
The Song of Songs rejoices in the goodness of the earth, ah, what lovely words, "Refresh me with raisins, comfort me with apples." Rosh Hashanah is the apple holiday. We wish each other a sweet new year by eating apples dipped in honey. Yellow-green early apples purchased at the Arcata Plaza Farmers' Market have already been baked into the first batch of my seasonal favorite dish, a charming challah bread pudding.
Ten days later, on Yom Kippur, we fast from sundown to sundown then we Break Fast. This light meal is eaten quietly after many hours of deep prayer and reflection. Like on the Sabbath no work may be done on this day, which means all the foods to be eaten must be prepared the day before. Most of us have memories of our families' sundown repast. Along with bagels and lox, my aunt makes a pasta salad with rotini, cherry tomatoes and black olives and always serves pickled herring in cream sauce. I went to Temple in the afternoon with my uncle, but never stayed until the last service to hear the Shofar, the ram's horn blown that ends the day. Aunt Linda was serving at 6 o'clock and we were to be home, which worked fine for our family.
I miss them during the holidays. Last year was particularly poignant. I had survived cancer and these Days of Awe left me filled with wonder and humility. My son and I stayed until nightfall to hear the blast of the Shofar and Break Fast with the congregation. I brought the lovely bread pudding, which can be served at room temperature making it a perfect choice for this occasion. Many of the dishes mentioned here can be prepared ahead and served warm or cold.
We pause with a blessing before eating. Rabbi Naomi of Temple Beth El reflects, poetically seeing the fast and prayers of Yom Kippur as the pause before the food of Sukkot, a thanksgiving for the bounty of nature in the year that has passed. Jews construct a sukkah or booth, which has at least three sides and an open lattice roof woven from tree branches letting the stars shine through. The sukkah becomes the living space of the home, some families sleeping in them. All meals are eaten outdoors for the weeklong observance. Blessings are made and delightful visiting occurs between sukkahs to share meals.
Sukkot is an ode to harvest. A festive time to be in the kitchen, the list of recipes celebrating our plenty, endless. We'll start with a pair I learned from this column and one from my last Talk of the Table:
Jada Calypso Brotman's Sweet Chard Tart, (Aug. 5). I found this tart tastes best at room temperature. I add a sprinkle of salt and scant handful of sugar into the chard before putting it into the tart crust. The dough is so easy. Try filling it with apples and cinnamon or blackberries with a handful of sugar and juice of one lemon instead.
Simona Carini's Roasted Red Beet Frittata, (June 17). My only tweak was adding shaved parmesan.
It's time to make a Plum Tart, (Table Talk Sept. 3, 2009). This, too, can be made a day ahead and served at room temperature.
Gingered Figs (from The New York Times Passover Cookbook)
1 pound dried or 2 pounds fresh figs
3 Tbls fresh lemon juice
1 Tbls freshly grated lemon zest
1 large piece fresh ginger
6 thin slices lemon
Wash the figs and clip off the stems. Put in a saucepan. Add cold water to cover,
Add 2 Tbls lemon juice and the lemon zest.
Add the ginger. Bring the mixture to a boil. Boil until the figs are soft and puffy.
Drain, reserving the liquid. Place the figs in a serving dish.
Add half as much sugar as liquid and simmer both over low heat until syrupy. Add 1 Tbls lemon juice and lemon slices.
Pour the syrup with the lemon slices over the figs.
Serve chilled, with whipped cream or Greek yogurt. Absolutely divine!
Summer Cobbler (from Locally Delicious)
Preheat oven to 350.
4 cups blackberries or apples or mix them
3 Tbls flour
Juice of one lemon (I prefer Meyer)
Mix in large bowl and pour into buttered 8-inch square baking pan
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup flour
(I use 1/4 cup Shakeford Community Farm barley flour and 1/4 cup regular)
3/4 cup butter, softened
Mix topping ingredients together and spread over the fruit mixture.
Bake 30 minutes, or until topping is golden brown.
Challah Bread Pudding
Preheat the oven to 350.
For 2 batches or one big pudding:
2 stale loaves of Los Bagels Challah
4 tart apples peeled, cored and diced
2 cups raisins or fresh berries
(or 1 loaf of plain challah and 1 loaf of Los Bagels Cinnamon Apple Bread with only 1 cup sugar and no fruit or cinnamon)
8 large eggs
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 Tbls pure vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
8 cups whole milk
Beat the eggs and sugar on high speed with an electric mixer until thick. Blend in the vanilla and cinnamon, melted butter and milk.
Place the bread cubes and fruit into two 9x13 baking dishes, (I use one large ovenproof tureen).
Divide the custard between the 2 pans, pouring over bread cubes until completely covered.
Place the baking dishes each inside a water bath.
What does that mean? You place your smaller baking dish, with your bread pudding, in a larger dish, like a roasting pan. Pour hot water into the larger pan, until the water comes half way up the side of the smaller dish. A water bath protects delicate dishes like this bread pudding from drying out or curdling.
(I have also baked challah bread puddings in a greased baking dish without the water bath; feel free to omit it, but check on the pudding often as it's baking.)
Bake about 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Another way to judge whether the pudding is fully baked is to gently press down on the center of the pudding. It's done when it's firm.
Remove the bread pudding from the water bath. Serve warm or at room temperature. Enjoy.