NEW YORK, Sept. 20 (JTA) — By late September, the rolling hills that ring Berkshire County in western Massachusetts burst into a blazing palate of oranges, reds, and golds. Corn stalks cling to doorways and porch posts, announcing that fall is in full swing. Every few miles, you pass a sign: “Pick Your Own Apples.” Toby Morganstein lives around the corner and down a stretch from Tafts Farm, where a cornucopia of fresh produce beckons. Huge bins overflow with Cortland, McCoun and Macintosh apples. Pies baking in the oven fill the crisp autumn air with the scent of browning dough and warm fruit. In this seasonal setting, Morganstein and her husband, Alan, volunteer their home, or rather the sukkah on their deck, as one of several stops on the annual sukkah tour of the Hevreh of Southern Berkshire, a Reform synagogue in Great Barrington. The Morgansteins build their sukkah from scratch. No store-bought kits for them. Supported by wooden slats, white bed sheets form the hut’s walls. The Morgansteins’ grandchildren have drawn colorful pictures in magic marker on the sheets. Holiday cards are fastened to these festive walls. Inside the sukkah, there’s an oblong table displaying candlesticks with an autumnal theme and a basket full of pine cones and fruit. A lulav in a straw holder and an etrog, looking like a large lemon, grace the table, whose cloth drapes to the floor. “My husband and I started building sukkahs when our children were young,” says Morganstein. “We didn’t come from observant backgrounds, but we wanted to give our children more.” They wanted them to know the difference between a sukkah and Sukkot, to recognize a lulav and experience the scent of etrogs. They wanted their children to realize that aside from pilgrims and pumpkin pies, the Jewish people have celebrated the bounty of the harvest for thousands of years. Leviticus says, “You shall take for yourselves the product of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook.” The product of goodly trees have come to mean the etrog, a lusciously large citrus fruit with its intoxicating scent. The “boughs of leafy trees” are associated with myrtle, and “willows of the brook” with willows. The lulav is actually a palm branch bound with three myrtles to the right and two willows to the left. The etrog, along with the three items in the lulav, represent the four species of the earth. Sukkot began as an autumn harvest festival. When the ancient Israelites lived in Canaan, they were inspired by the agricultural celebrations of the local people who surrounded them. Sukkot became a time when the Israelites flocked to Jerusalem and lived temporarily in harvesters’ huts, or sukkahs. They brought offerings of grains, fruit, oil and wine to the Temple. Traditionally a sukkah has always been a makeshift dwelling. Today it can be built from any material. The frame is generally constructed from metal, plastic or wooden posts. Attached to the frame, the walls can be composed of burlap, canvas, fabric or wood. The walls should be no more than 10 yards high and only two walls and part of a third are required to fulfil the commandment. For safety purposes, the sukkah should be sturdy enough so that it won’t collapse on people. Yet, it should not be so strong that it can withstand gale force winds. It is a perfect balance between exposure and shelter, uncertainty and protection. The roof covering should consist of something that grows and has been cut — such as evergreen or leafy branches. In warm climates, bamboo poles are common. The roof should be thick enough so that the shade it provides is greater than the light it allows in. The roof of the Morganstein sukkah is no exception. The wooden slats of its ceiling are laced with branches dotted with red berries. Flecks of blue sky are clearly visible between green leaves. Last autumn, Toby Morganstein awoke in the wee hours and through her skylight saw the stars and full moon. In her nightgown, she tiptoed into the chill of the Massachusetts midnight. She looked at the sky through the sukkah roof and was amazed that it appeared so much closer to her than it did from inside. “The sky somehow seemed in sharper focus and more real,” she says. “I felt a sense of place staring at that white moon and silver stars.” In Leviticus, the Israelites are commanded to live in their temporary dwellings for seven days. While that is not practical today, especially in colder climates and on rainy days, many people dine inside their sukkahs. Others read, relax, nap, take coffee breaks and appreciate the glory of nature. “We eat as many meals as possible out there, weather permitting,” says Morganstein. The sukkah also carries a welcoming and hospitable spirit. Inviting guests, particularly people in need or those who are not lucky enough to have a sukkah of their own, is part of the holiday, which may account for the popularity in recent years of sukkah tours, such as the one run by Hevreh of Southern Berkshire. Whether sunny or cloudy, many people show up to enjoy both the fruits of season and other peoples’ labor. Sukkot is a hectic, happy time in the Berkshires when congregants and their children descend on the Morgansteins’ deck with its panoramic view of woodlands and ornamental trees. “What’s nice about the sukkah tour is that people who never have time to socialize get a chance to chat surrounded by nature,” says Morganstein, who serves farm-fresh apple cider, lemon squares, sliced fruit and cookies — including a variety dipped in chocolate and another kind made from peanuts and chocolate bits. Besides the delicious snacks, Morganstein’s guests marvel at the etrog and lulav, so beautifully displayed on the sukkah table. “We order our etrog from New York,” she says, explaining that it was originally imported from Israel. There aren’t enough Jews in Berkshire County to make stocking this exotic fruit worthwhile at local markets and farm stands. Although Morganstein would prefer to fill her sukkah with fresh fruits and vegetables, instead plastic produce dangles plentifully from its walls. “The apples look so real that I almost took a bite from one of them, when they were sitting on our kitchen table,” says her husband Alan. “We can’t have the real thing out here,” says Morganstein. “It would attract all kinds of critters.” In the country, raccoons don’t wait to be invited for dinner. Nestled in the backwoods of the Berkshires, this year Hevreh is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Starting in living rooms of members’ homes, the congregation has grown from a handful of families without a permanent address to a burgeoning membership worshiping in a charming light gray building combining both bucolic and Jewish aesthetics. While Hevreh is an unusual name for a synagogue, the congregation feels it suits them. The name means community of friends and extended family. In the spirit of the season, this synagogue has published a cookbook called “First Fruits: A Harvest of recipes from Hevreh.” Dozens of members generously contributed family recipes handed down through generations. Calling for produce, many of them are especially suited for celebrating Sukkot and can be easily served outdoors in a sukkah. Hevreh is located in a county where white clapboard churches with tall steeples abound. The lush landscape now reverberates with fall foliage in shades from glowing coral to golden yellow. Overtaking hilltops and valleys, Fire Bush ignites into a riot of red intensity, vivid enough to be mistaken for the Burning Bush where Moses found God. Inspired by their surroundings, local people string autumn wreaths and branches dangling with berries on every doorway in sight. With the scent of apples wafting from nearby barrels and pumpkins piled on nearly every stoop, it seems that along with the Hevreh community, all of Berkshire County is celebrating Sukkot. ABBEY’S CARROT PUDDINGBy Abbey Rubinstein: “This recipe must be one hundred years old,” says Rubinstein laughing. She serves it at holidays throughout the year.No-stick spray3 eggs1 � cups brown sugar1 Tbsp. lemon juice3 Tbsp. orange rind (about two oranges)11/4 cups sifted flour1 tsp. baking powder1 tsp baking soda1 tsp. ground nutmeg1 tsp. ground cinnamon� tsp. salt� cup melted vegetable shortening3 cups shredded carrots (about six)1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat a 7 x 11 inch ovenproof casserole with no-stick spray. 2. In a large bowl, beat eggs. Add sugar, juice, and rind, beating again. 3. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt. Add to egg mixture. 4. Gradually add melted Crisco to carrots. Combine both mixtures. 5. Pour into prepared casserole. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until edges brown lightly and tester inserted into center returns clean.ROASTED VEGETABLE SALADBy Beth Moser: “I had forgotten about this great little recipe for several years, but it’s so easy, I’ll have to make it again,” says Moser.4 cups water6 red potatoes, skins on and cut into 1-inch cubes1 red bell pepper, cleaned and cut into bite-sized chunks1 green bell pepper, cleaned and cut into bite-sized chunks3 cups white mushrooms, cleaned and halved10 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped1/4 cup olive oil2 tsp. chopped rosemary, fresh or driedNo-stick spraySalt and pepper to taste2 Tbsp. Balsamic vinegar1. Place potatoes in boiling water for five minutes. Drain potatoes. 2. Preheat broiler. 3. In a large bowl, toss potatoes with peppers, mushrooms, garlic, oil, and rosemary, until well coated. 4. Coat broiler pan with no-stick spray. 5. Spread vegetables on broiler pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in broiler. 6. Turning vegetables every five minutes with a spatula, broil for 10-15 minutes, or until peppers blacken at edges and other vegetables turn crisp and brown. 7. Return to bowl and toss with vinegar. 8. Serve warm or prepare ahead, refrigerate, and return to room temperature.FEIJOADA (Fay-jo-ah-da) Brazilian StewBy Cindy Elitzer: Stews are traditional at Sukkot. This one is an Elitzer family favorite that came to them by way of Chip´s two-year service in the Peace Corps in the Brazilian Amazon. “This Feijoada has been adapted from the way most Brazilians prepare it,” says Elitzer. For one thing, the original recipe calls for Portuguese pork sausage.1 lb. Dried black beans1 smoked turkey drumstick2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for collard greens1-2 onions, chopped2-3 gloves garlic, minced4 bay leaves1 lb. Chicken or turkey sausage2 bunches collard greens1 cup raw riceSalt and pepper to taste2 oranges, skinned and sliced1. For 12-24 hours soak beans and drumstick in a large bowl with 6-8 cups cold water. Cover and refrigerate.2. When ready to prepare stew, remove drumstick from beans and reserve. Drain beans in a colander, discarding water.3. In a large pot, saute onions and garlic in 2 Tbsp. oil. When they´re transparent, add beans, drumstick, bay leaves, and enough cold water to generously cover ingredients. Cover and bring to a boil.4. Reduce to a simmer and cook stew covered for 3-4 hours, or until beans are soft but not mushy. CHECK POT DURING COOKING, STIRRING OCCASIONALLY TO MAKE SURE BEANS DON´T DRY OUT OR STICK TO BOTTOM OF POT. ADD WATER, IF NECESSARY.5. Meanwhile, on a low flame, in a non-stick pot, fry sausages until cooked through. Cool to room temperature. Slice into � inch chunks and cut them in half. Reserve.6. Clean collard greens. Remove stems. Cut greens into 2 inch squares. Inside another pot, in batches saute greens in oil until they wilt. Move first batches to a plate until last greens are prepared. Return all greens to the pot. Reserve.7. Prepare rice according to package instructions.8. Just before serving, discard bay leaves. Remove drumstick from pot. Cool enough to handle. Cut meat into bite-sized pieces and return to bean pot. 9. Add sausage chunks to bean pot. Heat through. Season with pepper and cautiously with salt, as smoked turkey and sausage can be salty.10. To serve traditionally, ladle stew over a bed of warm rice and accompany with collard greens. Layer sliced oranges liberally on top. MOLLIE’S STRUDELBy Shelley Rolf. Strudels are a traditional Sukkot dessert. “In fifth grade, I learned this recipe from my grandmother,” says Rolf. In Poland, her grandmother watched her mother Mollie making this strudel from memory. It immigrated to America with Rolf’s grandmother in the 1890’s. No-stick spray1 envelope instant yeast1/4 cup warm water2 cups flour� tsp. salt1 Tbsp. vegetable shortening1/4 lb. butter2 eggs, well beaten� cup apricot jam1 cup raisins1 cup chopped nuts� cup flaked coconut1 tsp. sugar1 tsp. ground cinnamon1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Coat a baking sheet with no-stick spray. 2. Dissolve yeast in water. Let proof (react to one another) for 5 minutes. If yeast is active enough to be effective, mixture should bubble and expand to about twice its original volume.3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine flour, salt, shortening, and butter, with a pastry blender. 4. Stir in yeast and beaten eggs. Blend with a fork. 5. Gather dough together and roll into a ball. Wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours. 6. Divide dough into 4 equal parts. Roll one part into an 8 x 8-inch square, a little less than 1/4 inch thick. Square shape is easier to achieve by moving palms back and forth on rolling pin, rather than by using the rolling pin handles. 7. Spread 1/8 cup jam on dough square. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup raisins and 1/4 cup nuts. Top with 1/8 cup coconut. 8. Roll loosely like a jelly roll. Place on baking sheet, seam side down. Cut small crosswise slits across the top about 1 inch apart. 9. Repeat to fill remaining three pieces of dough. 10. In a small bowl, mix cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar on top of prepared strudels. 11. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until dough is light brown and firm. When cool, cut strudel at each slit.
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