A note before we begin:
Throughout my adult life in Europe and the UK, I’ve experienced semi-regular micro-aggressions about my religion and ethnicity. Usually along the lines of ‘I couldn’t tell you were Jewish!’ or ‘You don’t look Jewish!’ or ‘surely it can’t be that important!’ (about being offline for festivals and the like). So for the last 8 years or so, I’ve felt the need to hide my religion - carrying a feeling of fear and embarrassment and worry - what would they [suppliers/employees/customers] think if they found out? Would we lose their support? Would I lose my credibility?
And believe me, I fully appreciate that this ability to ‘hide’ is a real privilege.
I still feel an ounce of fear that we might lose followers or customers by me outing myself here, but as we launch this new series of Ancestral Eats, in which we open the door for people to share their cultural and familial food traditions - I can’t bear the thought of hiding this part of myself anymore, because the Ashkenazi Jewish food tradition is so rich, and still such a significant part of my family life. So here we go!
As a strictly kosher family, our traditions are deeply ingrained in the way we are teaching our children about food. This food identity goes beyond holiday-specific dishes - it’s a way of life, a principle of respecting animals and all living things, of appreciating the Earth and how its bounty sustains us. It means there is always an intentionality to how we eat - always a pause before we do so - teaching our children mindfulness and gratitude, just from the foods we eat.
It felt fitting to launch this series today, January 17th, which is also Tu B’Shvat in the Hebrew calendar - a ‘birthday for the trees,’ and a holiday celebrating all agriculture. Fruit trees in particular have a special status in Judaism because of their importance in sustaining life - so today’s really about celebrating all of the fruits of these trees.
It’s traditional to eat at least the “seven species” (wheat, figs, barley, dates, pomegranates, olives, grapes), which are listed in the Hebrew Bible as being special products of the Land of Israel. But really it’s about trying new fruits, eating together, and taking time to appreciate all that the Earth gives us. What’s better than that?
The inspiration behind our fam favourites
I love following the thread of tradition and watching Liba and Arthur go crazy for dishes that I loved growing up, that my mother and grandmothers made for me.
Our food is really just simple, peasant food - it’s about using what you have available, and making the most of it. And that’s a lesson I’m trying to teach my children, even as we have every ingredient at our fingertips.
As a typical Ashkenazi family with roots in Russia, - a sort of dry porridge made from buckwheat - is a staple. It’s pure comfort food for me - probably why I was so excited to include buckwheat in Mamamade recipes. I hadn’t seen it in other baby food preparations, but it’s so delicious and nutritious it seemed like a no-brainer.
The Apple, Carrot, and Ginger mix is inspired by one of my favourite traditional dishes - I’ve included the recipe here. Tzsimmes is a sweet and colourful dish often served for the Jewish New Year, made with sweet root vegetables. There are probably a million variations, so feel free to have fun with the below - you can’t really get it wrong.
Fun fact: the word tzimmes is a Yiddish expression for “making a fuss” over something - which I’ve never understood because this dish couldn’t be easier!
Traditional Tzimmes Recipe
What you’ll need
- 6 medium carrots, peeled and diced
- 3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
- 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
- 100g dried pitted prunes, cut in half
- 100g dried pitted apricots, quartered
- 2 tablespoons mild honey (omit if making for babies under 12m)
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- salt (omit for babies)
- 1 cup fresh orange juice
How to do it
Preheat oven to 190C
Place the carrots and sweet potatoes in a steamer and steam for 5-10 minutes, until soft.
Drain and toss with the remaining ingredients in a big bowl, then transfer to a large baking dish (I use a dutch oven.
Bake for about an hour, stirring every so often, until everything is tender and combined.
Absolutely love this blog – so lovely to hear more about your traditions, Sophie!