September is National Honey Month, a happy coincidence for the millions of Jews who will soon be dipping apples in honey to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The tradition of dipping apples in honey is symbolic of the wish for a “sweet new year.” This year, Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Wednesday, September 28.
As we were preparing our Rosh Hashanah dinner shopping list, our kids reminded us to stock up on apples and a new jar of honey. Dipping apples in honey is their favorite part of the holiday meal. Another Rosh Hashanah tradition is eating a large round challah – not the traditional oblong shape. A round challah is symbolic of the circle of life and symbolic of the cyclical nature of the years. Serving round challah is an example of minhag, literally a Jewish custom that’s not mentioned in the Torah or mandated by Jewish law. But nonetheless, it’s followed. Whether your choose raisin challah or plain is up to you.
Just like your mother would tell you not to put the ketchup bottle on the table, you shouldn’t serve honey right from the jar. And you’d get all sticky trying to dip your apple in.
Serving honey in a beautiful pot or decorative bowl is a hiddur mitzvah – a way to enhance doing a mitzvah by using a beautiful ritual object. That’s why, along with Passover goblets and Hanukkah menorahs, Judaica artists create fancy honey pots for Rosh Hashanah. A quick search online or in a synagogue gift shop will turn up traditional pots made of brass and pewter, others shaped like a beehive, or ornate silver pots with mother-of-pearl inlay.
When you go to purchase that new jar of honey, here are some facts to keep you in-the-know:
- The color and flavor of honey depends on the flower that supplies its nectar to the bee. In general, light-colored honey is milder in taste and darker honey is bolder.
- In the United States alone, there are more than 300 types of honey with blossom sources ranging from alfalfa to blueberry to sage.
- Honey is a major agricultural product in Israel. Producers include Lin’s Bee Farm, a family-owned apiary, and Moshav Beit Yitzchak, a cooperative farm.
- Dutch Gold Honey, a family business headquartered in Lancaster, PA, has produced natural honey since the 1950s. In fact, patriarch Ralph Gamber was the inventor of the ubiquitous plastic honey bear squeeze bottle.
- What’s more exotic that bees that forage on the rainforest and surf on their day off? Big Island Bees in Kealakekua, Hawaii, makes single-floral artisan honey from the native wilelaiki and macadamia nut blossoms.
Le shanah tovah tikatevu. Happy 5772.
Here’s a recipe for traditional Jewish Apple Cake from Joyce’s Aunt Ruth
4 large apples, peeled and sliced
2-3/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup cinnamon
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoons baking powder
4 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons honey
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 10-inch spring pan or 3 regular loaf pans.
Mix 1 cup sugar with cinnamon. Add in flour and baking powder.
In mixer, beat eggs and 1-3/4 cups of sugar. Add oil, orange juice, honey and vanilla. Add in dry mixture and beat for 3 minutes.
Pour one-third of batter into the pan. Add half of sliced apples. Sprinkle half of the cinnamon/sugar mixtures. Repeat with another layer of batter, apple and cinnamon/sugar mix. Top with remaining batter.
Bake 1 hour (in the spring pan), 35-40 minutes (in the loaf pans) or until an inserted toothpick comes out dry. Cool on rack.