Beyond Apples and Honey

May 9, 2009

8 min read


Using symbolic foods to cook up real change for Rosh Hashanah.

Like many women, I enjoy making Rosh Hashana meals for my family. I love baking the special honey-laden challahs and cakes we eat during this season. But this year I've started thinking about what that honey really represents. Why do we eat so many symbolic foods at the Rosh Hashana meals? Now that I've served the apples, honey, round challahs and pomegranates for a few years, its time to start taking their symbolism to heart.

Many of us learned about the symbolic foods as children -- we dip the apple in the honey for a L'Shana Tova U'Metuka, a good and sweet year. What can we as wives and mothers do to make the coming year good and sweet?

We can look back at our mistakes and resolve to do better. This is the time of year God's ears are wide open to hear us express real regret over our mistakes and a true desire to grow and improve. So, in my role as wife and mother, what can I do to make the New Year sweet and good for my family? Can I simply cook up my New Year's resolutions and repentance as I cook up my favorite holiday foods too?


Let's start with the round challahs we eat on Rosh Hashana (see my favorite recipe at the end of this piece). For generations women have made round challahs for this Yom Tov to symbolize the cycle of the year beginning again. When one year ends, the next immediately begins and we celebrate the opportunities this New Year brings us. At the same time it's important to reflect on how we'd like to improve ourselves in the coming year.

As a wife, the New Year brings me a chance to find more opportunities to do chessed (kindness) for my husband. This is the foundation of a strong marriage. We should always look for ways to give to one another. I can look back at the times I could have done more for my husband and seek ways to improve. Did I try to always speak kindly, even if I felt frustrated? Did I give him enough of my undivided time and energy?

Just as I patiently wait for my challah dough to rise, so should I be patient with my children, even when they are misbehaving or testing me. I'm not patient enough with the monkey-business that my preschooler and toddler can wreak on my household. It's so important to learn to laugh at the harmless antics of my children and teach them the importance of patience through my example.


Let's move onto the symbolism of the honey. It's sweet. We pray that the coming year will be sweet, too. I just have to learn how to be a sweet wife and mother more often. This reminds me of a bumper sticker I once saw, "If Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." It happens to be true. The mood and spirit of the household depends on the mother's disposition. I need to be slower to show anger or frustration to my family. I should try to remember how much I love each member of my family and keep a smile on my face more often. A sweeter mommy and wife will surely lead to a happier home.


What about the apples that we eat? I make a terrific apple cake (see my favorite recipe at the end of this piece) that we look forward to all year. What can I learn from the apples I peel for this recipe? Most of us associate health with the apple. I should thank God every day for the health of my family and pray that He continue it. The wife/mother is very responsible for her family's health by making nutritious meals and snacks, arranging well-child doctor's appointments, caring for sick family members and monitoring the emotional health of everyone, too. Mothers and wives are God's appointed caretakers of their families. Never take this responsibility lightly and never stop thanking God for the gift of good health.


Finally, what about the pomegranate? As we eat this fruit at the start of our holiday meal, we exclaim, "May it be Your will… that our merits increase as the seeds of the pomegranate." What better way is there for me to increase my merits than by starting in my own home? Just by resolving to be a better wife and mother I'm increasing my merits. Really, this is one of the main things God wants from me.

By focusing more on my family and home I'm really doing God's will. Training my children to have good middot (character traits) and to live according to God's will is vital for the next generation of the Jewish people. Maintaining Shalom Bayis (domestic harmony) draws God's presence to our home. The work I do in my own kitchen has important spiritual ramifications for my family now and in generations to come.

Can I really improve my whole household for the coming year through cooking? Yes! But only if I integrate the symbolism of the foods I'm preparing and use them as tools to focus on becoming a better wife and mother in the coming year.

Challah Recipe

1/2 c sugar or honey
6 c bread flour
4-1/2 tsp yeast
1/4 c vegetable oil
1-1/2 c very warm water
3 eggs
2-1/2 tsp salt.

(Note: This recipe does not contain enough flour to separate challah. To fulfill the mitzvah of separating challah, you must double this recipe. Please note that not all mixers can handle the bulk of dough when this recipe is doubled.)

Measure flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. If using traditional yeast (see below for instant yeast), add yeast and sugar/honey to warm water to proof the yeast. After five minutes, if the mixture isn't somewhat foamy, then your yeast is not fresh and you'll need to try again with new yeast.

If yeast mixture foams, then pour it into the mixing bowl with the flour. Add oil and eggs and begin kneading. Dough will be ready when its just slightly sticky but forms a solid ball. You may need to add a small amount of oil or water if dough feels too dry - or conversely a small amount of flour if dough feels too gooey and sticky. Kneading can take up to ten minutes by hand and 5 minutes by mixer.

If using instant yeast, mix yeast in with dry ingredients (including sugar -- if using honey, add it with the liquid ingredients) and stir with a spoon or start the mixer for about 30 seconds. Then add all liquid ingredients as described above.

Place dough in a mixing bowl and coat with a little vegetable oil. Cover bowl with a clean kitchen cloth and let it rise for 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Punch down dough, form it into round loaves and place loaves on a greased baking sheet to rise again. Cover it with your kitchen towel again and let sit for another hour. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes (less for smaller loaves). If desired coat with egg wash and poppy and sesame seeds before baking.

Apple Cake
5 or 6 large apples
1/4 c of granulated white sugar mixed with 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3 c unbleached white flour
2 c granulated white sugar
1 tbs. baking powder
4 eggs (graded large)
1 c mild-tasting vegetable oil
1/4 c orange juice

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Grease a 9-inch tube pan
3. Peel, core and slice enough apples to make 4 cups. Immediately mix the sliced apples with the sugar and cinnamon mixture to prevent darkening.
4. In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, the 2 cups of sugar and the baking powder. Add the eggs, oil and orange juice all at once. Using an electric mixer or large wooden spoon, beat well until batter is smooth, about 2 minutes with the mixer or 3 minutes by hand. This heavy batter will be a little difficult to mix.
5. Fold in the apples - mix by hand only at this point.
6. Spoon the batter into the tube pan, leveling with a spatula. Bake for 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and dry.
7. Remove from oven and let cake cool completely in pan before removing.


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