Tasting a new sweetness in Rosh Hashanah

Edmon J. Rodman suggests a chocolate egg cream as one of his symbolic substitutes for apples and honey. (Edmon Rodman)

Edmon J. Rodman suggests a chocolate egg cream as one of his symbolic substitutes for apples and honey. (Edmon Rodman)

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — What flavor is your Jewish New Year?

For most, since childhood, Rosh Hashanah begins with apples dipped in honey. Custom has Jews eating them together supposedly to ensure a sweet new year.

Over time they have become a ritual comfort food. But what if we like change?

What if you don’t like apples, or honey, or find the combination a drip too saccharine for your tastes?

If the good quality of time we choose to celebrate is sweetness, I want to revel in a different kind of sweet.

Does eating the same old thing portend we will have the same old year? Does habit have us singing, “Apples dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanah, blah?"

You don’t need food dehydrators and molecular gastronomy to come up with something better. Just follow your nose, taste buds, Jewish history and ritual.

At this time of year, we dine on so much food symbolism. Two noteworthy symbols: round challah, for the continuity of the Jewish year, with some even decorated with wings or ladders anticipating our spiritual ascent; and pomegranates, their seeds representing the commandment to be fruitful and multiply.

Before we say a blessing and eat, why not first consider what we want our food to represent?

For a different new year, one filled with as many new experiences as the seeds of the pomegranate, a new combination is in order. Unless someone is planning to open a Rosh Hashanah food truck, we will need to come up with our own.

New combos can be as easy as apples and honey, providing new ways to feed our heads at the head of the year.

To start, let’s not stick with honey. According to Claudia Roden, author of “The Book of Jewish Food," "Beekeeping is not mentioned in the Bible, and it is believed that every mention of honey in the Pentateuch refers to date honey."

“Let me take hold its branches,” says a verse of the Song of Songs, which refers to the tamar, the date palm.

Since we want to bring more Torah into our lives at this time of year, then in our search for a new combo, let’s begin with dates. Many already use them as an ingredient of charoset for the Passover table.

Pairing dates with another ancient food, ice cream — it dates back to 400 BCE Rome, around the time of the prophet Malachi — provides a kid- and adult-friendly treat to begin 5771.

So chop up a few dates and sprinkle them onto some vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt. Think of a refreshing new year with many satisfying acts of loving kindess. Serve and say "L’shana tova umetukah," wishing you a sweet new year.

Another traditional approach to a sweet new year is eating taiglach, literally “little dough,” small pieces of dough boiled in honey.

What about substituting another form of cooked dough, one with which many Jews are even more familiar: crispy chow mein noodles? We already eat them at Christmas; apparently even Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. So why not on a Jewish holiday?

For dipping, use the bright red sweet and sour sauce, of course. Let the dipping remind you to dip into your wallet; Rosh Hashanah is an auspicious time to make someone else’s new year sweet as well.

Moving beyond food, at this time of year we should be thinking about the “land of milk and honey,” and that sounds a lot like a drink. What about raising a glass for a sweet and healthy year?

With their myriad ruby red seeds, antioxidant-rich pomegranates have a holiday significance, reminding us of both mitzvot and fertility; all the good deeds and perhaps new babies we intend to surround ourselves with in the coming year.

We can toast the year with a glass of pomegranate juice, sweetened further by serving it with a slice of orange on the rim of the glass. Pomegranates and oranges are agricultural products of modern-day Israel.

At the High Holy Day season‘s end they give us another reason to sing “L’shana Ha’baah, Yerushalayim,” next year in Jerusalem.

Chocolate has all the right stuff to bring us Jewish New Year joy. For a Jewish connection, Rabbi Debra Prinz on her blog "Jews on the Chocolate Trail" has amply demonstrated the involvement of Jewish traders and producers in the chocolate trade.

Your favorite fruit or berries dipped in melted chocolate can easily introduce a sweet new year.

But if I have my choice of chocolate-infused ways to bring in Rosh Hashanah, it’s a chocolate egg cream every time. A treat with a Jewish history, many historians say the drink dates back to early 1900s Brooklyn. Louis Auster, a Jewish Brooklyn candy store owner, is said to have created the fizzy chocolate drink.

To make a chocolate egg cream, traditionalists recommend using only Fox’s U-Bet, still made in Brooklyn. The ritual calls for a little milk and some chocolate syrup; add cold soda water and stir vigorously.

The bubbles represent the sparkle we all need to begin a new year; their sweet effervescence can get us written onto that big menu of life. Chocolate mixed in seltzer on Rosh Hashanah, yes!

On Rosh Hashanah, sound the shofar. But in the quiet that follows, listen for the fizz.

(Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him at edmojace@gmail.com.)

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