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Making a Tsimmes

June 6, 2019 | by Yona Levi

Cooking a carrot dish or making a scene? You decide.

In the Jewish world, there are at least two ways to make a tsimmes.

The first way to make a tsimmes is from a culinary perspective and involves the creation of a delicious dish dominated by carrots and dried fruit. It is a wonderful concoction that some describe as a sweet stew and it is often served on holidays alongside other traditional Ashkenazic offerings such as brisket and flanken. The sweetness of the fruit typically is enhanced with appropriate amounts of honey, sugar and/or cinnamon, nearly transforming this sensational side dish into a delectable dessert.

The second way to make a tsimmes is from a social or behavioral perspective and involves the proverbial (i) throwing of a fit, (ii) making a mountain out of a molehill, (iii) getting bent out of shape and/or (iv) getting your knickers in a twist. It also involves taking umbrage unnecessarily, making a big to-do and/or making a fuss or commotion, usually over some petty or inconsequential. The phrase “making a tsimmes” is sort of a Yiddish expression but its exact origins are unknown and the subject of much debate. It is often directed at meddling parents and in-laws who are about to interject themselves in their kids’ narishkeit and must be told, “Stay out of it and don’t make a tsimmes.”

If you still don’t understand the difference between making an edible tsmisses and making an social one, then let’s try another approach. A typical recipe for making an edible tsimmes is as follows:

A. Ingredients for Making Tsimmes

  • 3 pounds sweet potatoes
  • 2 pounds medium carrots
  • 1 package (12 ounces) pitted dried plums
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup butter, cubed

B. Directions for Making Tsimmes

  • In a greased baking dish, combine the sweet potatoes, carrots and plums. Combine the orange juice, water, honey, brown sugar and cinnamon; pour over vegetables.
  • Cover and bake at 350° for 1 hour. Uncover; dot with butter. Bake 45-60 minutes longer, carefully stirring every 15 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and sauce is thickened.

In contrast, here is a recipe for “making a tsimmes,” the social kind:

A. Ingredients for “Making a Tsimmes”

  • 3 pounds of anxiety
  • 2 pounds of insecurity
  • 1 package (12 ounces) of obnoxious comments
  • 1 cup of resentment
  • 1/4 cup of misunderstanding
  • 1/3 cup of indignation
  • 2 teaspoons of chaos
  • 1/4 cup of fury

B. Directions for “Making a Tsimmes”

  • Combine resentment and indignation then slowly add insecurity and anxiety. Mix with an obnoxious comment and misunderstanding.
  • Allow the mixture to simmer and then add chaos and fury. Uncover and carefully stir the pot, so to speak, until someone storms out of the room.

Some scholars posit that the phrase “making a tsimmes” is based on the fact that the edible tsimmes side dish requires plenty of preparation including time-consuming dicing and slicing and intense mixing, stirring and cooking. In other words, when you make an edible tsimmes dish, you likely are making a big commotion in the kitchen and thus quite a fuss. Therefore, the Yiddish idiom of “making a tsimmes” (the social kind) possibly is based on the same fussy notion.

The question, however, is whether it is ever appropriate and acceptable to “make a tsimmes”? The answer is yes and to prove it, here are some examples of when you would be justified in making a tsimmes:

If your parents give you only one week to learn your bar mitzvah parsha and they hire a Star Wars-obsessed bar mitzvah teacher who does zero actual teaching and instead merely tells you to close your eyes and “use The Force,” then, in that case, you every right to make a tsimmes!

If your rabbi enacts a new shul policy inexplicably banning the post-davening kiddush and unnecessarily extending the post-davening sermon, then you can make a tsimmes!

If your local butcher changes how meat is priced by switching from a "per pound" pricing system to a “how often do you disloyally buy meat from another butcher” pricing system, then you can make a tsimmes!

If your local baker discontinues the ever-popular chocolate babka in favor of a not-so-popular kale babka, then you should make a tsimmes!


If your boss doubles your workload and halves your salary, then you can make a tsimmes!

If your children keep skipping class but never miss free period or lunch, then you can make a tsimmes!

Final thought: If you want to keep track of the things over which you want to make a big to-do, then make a to-do list.

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