Purim in Western MA
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
One traditional delicacy that you can almost always find in a Purim basket is the three-cornered fruit-filled pastries known as Hamentashen. (The word means Haman’s hat and recalls Haman’s triangular-shaped headdress.)
Jewish heroines in the Bible are few and far between. The annual holiday of Purim is unique amongst Jewish holidays in that two strong, independent women are at the heart of its story. Indeed, one of them saves the entire Jewish people from imminent destruction.
The story of Purim comes from the Bible, set in ancient Persia. Haman, an evil and egotistical minister of the King, concocts a plan to destroy all Jews in the empire because they refuse to bow down to him. Little does Haman know that the new queen, Esther, is herself a Jew. (Esther, incidentally, has replaced King’s first wife, Queen Vashti, who was banished for refusing to dance for the King and his drunk friends. Yay, Vashti!) After a series of plot twists and turns truly reminiscent of a Shakespearean comedy, Esther bravely reveals her true identity to the King. The Jews are spared, and Haman is destroyed instead. (Yay, Esther!) Try Eric Kimmel’s picture book The Story of Esther: A Purim Tale or Queen Esther Saves Her People by Rita Gelman for a more detailed version of the story. For a tamer version (both picture books mention capital punishment, gallows-style), try the Shalom Sesame version on youtube.
The holiday of Purim has many rich and joyful traditions. Families gather in the synagogue on Purim eve, where the story of Esther is recited aloud in Hebrew from a scroll known as a megillah. During the reading, it is customary to drown out Haman’s name each time it appears in the story with loud noisemakers known in Yiddish as graggers. Adults and children wear costumes to the megillah reading; these disguises remind us that God’s miracles often work behind the scenes or in disguise. The story of Purim is often also acted out in a humorous skit known as a Purim shpiel. Other traditions include giving gifts to the poor and exchanging food baskets with friends and neighbors.
One traditional delicacy that we can almost always find in a Purim basket is the three-cornered fruit-filled pastries known as Hamentashen (The word means Haman’s hat and recalls Haman’s triangular-shaped headdress.). Every year, my daughters and I bake several batches of the recipe handed down for generations in my family. My mother, whom my girls call Bubbe, Yiddish for grandmother, used to make them with her Bubbe in her kitchen in Boro Park, Brooklyn. Here’s the recipe – they are, quite honestly, the best hamentashen I’ve ever eaten.
- 1 stick butter or margarine
- 3/4 c sugar
- 3 c flour (start with 2.5 cups and slowly add the last half cup as needed
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
Cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs. Mix. Add the dry ingredients. (Sometimes, I need to use my hands to get it thoroughly mixed.) Form a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
Prune Filling (my great-grandmother’s specialty): 1/2 lb pitted prunes soaked overnight in water (about an inch higher than the prunes), cook with a bit of sugar and cinnamon until very soft. Mash to break up the prunes. (I sometimes puree it with an immersion blender, but it’s not necessary.) Squeeze in a bit of lemon to taste.
To see how to fill and fold the pastries, watch this video from Shalom Sesame, made by the Sesame Street Workshop. Roll the dough, and cut out circles ~3” diameter (I use a drinking class for this.) (Folding starts at around 2:00, but the whole video is worth watching.)
Bake at 375° for 12-15 minutes, until lightly brown around the edges.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy is a teacher and the author of two children’s books, A Mezuzah on the Door, and The Shabbat Princess. Amy lives in Northampton, MA with her family.
[Photo credit: (ccl) Joshua Bousel]