Tuesday, March 2, 2010
When I was 10 or 11, I had my first introduction to Purim. When my sister and I came downstairs that morning, my mom had out The Children's Book of Bible Stories. We read the story of Esther and how she saved the Jewish people from Haman. My mom then presented us with poppy seed Hamentaschen, the special pastry made for Purim. If I remember correctly, the pastries resemble the hat that Haman wore.
It may or may not be important to note that we are not Jewish. I'm not sure exactly why my mom decided to celebrate Purim that year, but I suspect it had everything to do with the fact that it's a holiday that celebrates a woman. And there aren't a lot of those. And she was a smart woman. A woman who was able to save her people from death. That's no small feat.
We didn't mark the occasion after that, but I've always had a special place in my heart for the holiday because of the one year that we did.
Many years later, while in the grocery store around the time of Purim, I saw some poppy seed hamentaschen. I was excited, because I remembered how good the ones were that we had that morning so long ago. Sadly, these hamentaschen were a big disappointment. I think I may have tried them one other time after that, with the same disappointing results. I gave up on the idea of finding good poppy seed hamentaschen and suspected that, someday, I would probably need to make my own. (In retrospect, if I had gotten my hamentaschen from a good bakery, I might have had different results, but then I wouldn't be here now, telling you about my own hamentaschen-making experience. And in my defense, the grocery store does make a very tasty rugalach.)
Over the years, Purim has snuck up on me repeatedly. I miss it every year. I'm guessing this is because I'm not Jewish, so it's not like I have any seasonal or annual reminders, or any Jewish relatives to remind me or with whom to celebrate. So, I'd keep missing my opportunity to try my hand at making hamentaschen--not that I had a recipe with which to work.
This past summer, at the annual reunion we have with my folks' college friends, I was speaking with one of our old family friends and I brought up how I always miss Purim and wanted to make my own hamentaschen (not that I remembered the name of the pastry) and she said that she had a recipe for it. Yay! Here was my in.
Fast forward to February 10th of this year. Determined to not miss Purim again, and thinking it was sometime in March, I put out a request on FB asking my Jewish friends to remind me when it was happening this year. I also specifically asked the daughters of the previously mentioned old family friend if they could get me their mom's hamentaschen recipe. Turns out, Purim falls on the last weekend of February. So, good thing I asked when I did.
The eldest of the sisters, Jennifer, was able to procure her mom's recipe for me. Not only that, but it's a scan of the original, so I get the illustrations and some very helpful additional notes written at the bottom. But it's only for the dough, not any fillings. This is not a problem; however, because I have access to the internet! I find a couple of hamentaschen poppy seed filling recipes online, and identify one as looking most promising (but printed out a second, just in case).
So, Purim weekend rolls around and I go to the local natural food store on Saturday to buy the ingredients I don't have, with fingers crossed that they have enough bulk poppy seeds (I need a 1/2 pound). On the way, I stop at the winter farmers' market (yes, I am very lucky to live in a town with one of these) to pick up another jar of honey (both the dough and the filling call for it). I'm super happy to find everything I need, except eggs. So, I make a second stop at a local grocery and get (relatively) local eggs.
The process starts Saturday night with pouring boiling water over the poppy seeds, so that they can soak overnight. On Sunday morning, as I wait for the Main Squeeze to get ready for a trip to the mall (ugh, the mall), I make the dough--it needs to chill before being rolled out. I have already decided to make a change to the recipe, which calls for shortening. I am wary of shortening--unless you're making a pie crust, and I don't make pies. So I opt for butter instead (mmm, butter). The other ingredients include: flour, honey, eggs, baking soda, and salt.
The original recipe calls for mixing the dough by hand, and since I'm going for the full homemade treatment, I'm going with it. (The old family friend, Judy, now makes hers in her Cuisinart, as I learned from the hand-written note at the bottom of the recipe.) Besides, I don't have any other recipes in my repertoire that call for mixing the ingredients with my hands, so I think this will be fun. It was. But Judy's warning from the summer, that the dough is really sticky, turns out to be quite true. It takes me awhile to extract the dough from my hands and vice versa. But eventually, I am mostly free. And the dough goes into the fridge to chill.
When we get back from the mall (a relatively painless trip, but still, ugh, the mall) and after having lunch, it was time to make the filling. The first step was to drain the poppy seeds. Good thing we have a cheese cloth on hand. The second step is to grind the poppy seeds. They recommend a special poppy seed grinder, but say a coffee grinder will do the trick. I dig ours out of the pantry, and start grinding. Guess what? They just swirl around. Poppy seeds are tiny! They aren't about to be ground by a coffee grinder. So, I decide this is a silly step and move on. (Besides, the poppy seeds in the hamentaschen I've had have been whole, anyway.) Along with the poppy seeds goes in honey, butter, coarsely ground walnuts, golden raisins, a little cream and orange zest. (At least that's what I remember from off the top of my head.) Then the filling went into the fridge to chill as well.
And that's where my plan to have these made for Purim went off the rails. Because now it was time to make dinner. (It didn't help that I had had to make an emergency trip to the hardware store in the middle of the filling making to get something for the Main Squeeze.) And once dinner was over, it was far too late to tackle rolling out dough and forming the hamentaschen and baking them and all that. So, I resigned myself to being a day late and finishing them on Monday.
Monday evening, after dinner, and dinner clean up, I get the dough and the filling out. More flour is added to the dough so it can be handled, the counter is thoroughly floured, as is the rolling pin. I get out a wide-mouth glass and get to rolling, and cutting out circles, and plopping down heaping tablespoons of filling, and folding up the edges in a triangular pattern, and putting them on cookie sheets. They look like hamentaschen. I'm getting excited.
I got at least the three dozen Judy said I would (and I have about 2 cups of leftover filling--note for next year, halve the recipe). They come out of the oven perfectly golden brown. I barely wait for one to cool before testing it. And... Heaven. They are as good as I remember the first hamentaschen I had! SUCCESS!
When the Main Squeeze got home, he loved them too.
So clearly, I will be making my own hamentaschen for all future Purims. And I'm well on my way to being a Jewish grandmother. Except for the Jewish and the grandmother parts.