Apples & Honey: Rosh Hashana and local festival are occasions to celebrate a 'good and sweet' combination


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For Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashana, it is traditional to eat slices of apple dipped in honey, which are symbolic of a sweet year.

On Sunday, just before Rosh Hashana begins at sundown on Wednesday, several groups of the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh are holding the first Family Apples and Honey Fall Festival at Squaw Valley Park in O'Hara. The event, which runs from 1 to 4 p.m., will feature experts on honey (kosher honey, no less) and apples. There'll also be apple sack races, beeswax candle making and other art activities, holiday-themed games -- even a workshop on making shofars, the "ram's horn" horns blown on Jewish holidays.

One of the organizers is Kira Sunshine, a chef whose kosher catering company is called Apples and Honey (applesandhoney.com). She brought the name with her from Washington, D.C., where it was her personal chef service to more than 30 clients.

She liked the name because it subtly said "kosher" and because, frankly, an "a" name puts you first in the phone book and on other lists.

But she agrees that apples and honey have a wide appeal, especially this time of year when the apples are coming in, and welcomes people, Jewish or not, to the free festival. "Certainly anyone's welcome to come and enjoy it," she says. "Something like this is just a wonderful way to kick off the new year."

As Gil Marks notes in his "Encyclopedia of Jewish Food (Wiley, 2010)," Rosh Hashana translates as "Head of the Year" and lasts for two days of joy and feasting. Eating apples grew out of the ancient custom of eating a new fruit, one not yet sampled that season. Among Ashkenazi (from Eastern Europe) Jews, he writes, "At the beginning of the evening meal, apple slices are dipped in honey and this phrase is recited: 'May it be Your will to renew on us a good and sweet year.' "


The Hurried Beekeeper's Standby Dinner for Friends: Chicken and Apples in Honey Mustard Sauce

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This charmingly named recipe is one of just three in the forthcoming book, "Honey: Nature's Golden Healer," by Gloria Havenhand, a teacher/lecturer turned beekeeper and bee products producer in Derbyshire, England. She's all about the beneficial properties of honey and other bee products (pollen, royal jelly, wax), which she calls "the universal panacea." But the book is overflowing with interesting facts, and it's gorgeously photographed, often from a honeybee's perspective, by Christian Bennett. This is a book that should generate some buzz.

This dish, she writes, works well served with rice or pasta. It's quick and very good.

-- Bob Batz Jr.

  • 1/2 cup apple cider
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 1/4 cup honey (or more according to taste)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons seasoned dry breadcrumbs
  • 4 4-ounce chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 small unpeeled baking apples
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • Handful of freshly chopped chives, watercress or parsley

First make the cider mixture as follows: Whisk the cider, cornstarch, mustard, honey, salt and pepper (to taste) in a bowl. Set aside.

Put the breadcrumbs in a bowl and lightly coat chicken with crumbs.

In a large nonstick pan, heat the oil and add the chicken breasts. Cook over medium heat until golden brown on 1 side, about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the chicken, add the apples and cook until browned on the other side.

Add the chicken stock, cover and simmer until the chicken is tender, about 15 minutes.

Carefully remove the chicken and apples to serving plates. Whisk the cider mixture again and add to the pan.

Cook over high heat, stirring until lightly thickened and sizzling hot (this usually takes just 1 to 2 minutes). Spoon over chicken and apples. Sprinkle with chopped chives, watercress, parsley or herbs of your choice.

Serves 4.

-- "Honey: Nature's Golden Healer" by Gloria Havenhand (Firefly, Sept. 30, 2011, $19.95)



Honey-Spice Apple Butter

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  • 2 pounds McIntosh apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of ground allspice
  • Pinch of kosher salt

Combine apples and cider in a heavy-based 3-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples have broken down, about 30 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to force the mixture through a medium sieve into a bowl. Rinse the saucepan and return the mixture to the pan. Whisk in the brown sugar, honey, cinnamon, allspice and salt.

Bring back to a simmer over medium heat and adjust the heat to maintain a vigorous simmer. Cook until the mixture reduces and thickens to a spreadable consistency, about 75 minutes. As the mixture cooks, stir occasionally at first and then more frequently as it thickens; keep in mind that the apple butter will thicken a little more as it cools. Scrape the apple butter into a storage container and press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming as it cools. Once completely cool, you can remove the plastic, cover with a lid and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

-- "Fine Cooking in Season: Your Guide to Choosing & Preparing the Seasons Best" by editors and contributors of Fine Cooking (Taunton, 2011, $22.95)



Semolina Cake with Honey and Pistachio

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Another traditional Rosh Hashana food is honey cake. I'd wanted to try this one ever since seeing it earlier this year in the new cookbook from Clodagh McKenna, a well-known Irish food writer, broadcaster and entrepreneur. She writes, "Yes, it tastes as good as it looks! Sweet, sticky, and with a little crunch, it is one of the most heavenly cakes that I have made." She suggests serving it with a spoonful of mascarpone cream.

-- Bob Batz Jr.

  • 4 large eggs,
  • 2/3 cup superfine sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • Generous 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup semolina
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups pistachios, finely ground
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons pistachios, chopped

  • For the syrup
  • Generous 3/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place eggs and sugar in a large bowl and beat together with an electric hand mixer on high speed for about 5 minutes. Reduce the speed and slowly pour in the vegetable oil.

Add the flour, semolina, baking powder and salt and mix well until the batter comes together.

Fold in the ground pistachios and lemon zest.

Pour the cake batter into a greased, 10-inch springform pan and bake in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the syrup by stirring the honey, water and lemon juice in a saucepan and placing over high heat. Leave the syrup to boil and reduce by half, which takes about 10 minutes.

Use a skewer to poke deep holes in the cake while it is still hot. Drizzle half of the syrup evenly over the top, allowing it to be absorbed, then pour over the remaining syrup. Let cool completely, then sprinkle with the chopped pistachios.

-- "Homemade: Irresistible Recipes for Every Occasion" by Clodagh McKenna (Kyle, 2011, $24.95)


Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1930.


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