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Happy new year!

Apples and honey (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

Have you made your new year’s resolutions yet? Too early, you say?

True, the Western new year is still months away. But later this week, Rosh Hashanah marks the Jewish new year 5781, which begins at sundown on Friday, Sept. 18. The celebration and feasting concludes at sundown on Sunday, Sept. 20.

Rosh Hashanah is Hebrew for “head of the year” or “first of the year.” Although resolutions are not a part of the celebration, introspection, remembrance, and prayer are.

Of course, food is a central part of the holiday. No bitter or sour food is served during the two-day holiday. Only sweet food that symbolizes a sweet year to come is eaten. It is reported that the prophet Nehemiah brought the Persian custom of eating sweet foods to celebrate the new year to ancient Israel.

Round foods are also traditional. They symbolize the circle of life and a full, round year ahead. They’re also reminiscent of a royal crown, a reminder of the coronation of God as supreme ruler and king. Chicken is often served for the main course because of its round appearance.

Left: Sweet fruit to celebrate the Jewish new year (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

Some traditional foods include sweet, round apples, honey, carrots (cut into coins to represent prosperity), sweet, round beets, pomegranates, raisins and dates. Dates, grapes, figs and pomegranates are native to Palestine; apples are not. They became common when Jews migrated north.

In many Ashkenazi Jewish families from central Europe, it is customary to begin the holiday by passing a plate of apples and a bowl of honey around the table. Round, spherical apples represent perfection and timelessness, while honey symbolizes riches and the sweetness of life.

Before dipping the apple in honey and eating it, a prayer is said, asking God for a year as sweet as the food that is about to be eaten. “May it be Your will … that You renew for us a year that is good and sweet, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year” (Ori Ve’yish’i Prayerbook for Rosh Hashanah by Earl Klein and Rabbi Moises Benzaquen). In addition to this appetizer, apples and honey are central to the desserts served, which include baked apples, apple tarts, honey cake and apple cake.

One of the joys of autumn is the first tart-sweet bite of a crisp, juicy apple — especially one you’ve picked yourself moments before. Many orchards in our area open in September for apple picking. Perhaps this adds another reason why most American and European Jews will serve apples with honey as their first fruit to celebrate the Jewish New Year at sundown this coming Friday.

Other foods served are sweet vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes and squash; fresh greens like spinach; sweet chicken dishes; fish (which symbolizes abundance and fertility); and fish or lamb heads to symbolize the head of the year. Sephardic Jews often eat leeks, which symbolize the desire for cutting off one’s enemies.

Above: Leek apple salad (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

“Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

Shana Tova U’Metukah — a good and sweet new year!

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Apple Kugel (a sweet noodle pudding)

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Ingredients:

1 (12 oz.) package egg noodles

1/3 cup butter, melted (1 stick)

1 medium leek

6 eggs, beaten

1/3 cup honey (add 1/3 cup sugar if you like it sweeter)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt

3 large or 6 small apples

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup walnuts, optional

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Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Boil noodles according to package directions in salted water, drain and rinse with cool water.

3. Melt butter in skillet. Clean leeks — chop off root end and tough greens and discard. Cut in half lengthwise, rinse under water to remove sand. Then cut crosswise. Cook in the butter on low heat 7 to 10 minutes. Set aside.

4. In a large bowl, beat eggs with salt, honey, and cinnamon. Stir in leeks and butter and cooked noodles. Peel and core apples; grate into mixture. Stir in raisins and nuts, if using.

5. Turn contents of bowl into two buttered round 8″ casserole dishes (or a 9-by-13-inch pan, but the round shape is traditional for the holiday).

6. Bake uncovered for 50 to 60 minutes or until golden brown.

7. This can be made ahead and reheated or frozen and reheated.

Serves 6 to 8.

Fruit Salad with Apples and Honey

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 Tablespoon honey

1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar or apple cider

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 medium apples (about 2 cups)

1/4 cup thinly sliced celery

1/4 cup thinly sliced carrots

1 to 2 cups shredded Napa, bok choy, sweet cabbage or lettuce

2 Tablespoons golden raisins

1/3 cup seedless red grapes

1/3 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

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Directions:

Combine oil, honey, vinegar and cinnamon in bottom of large salad bowl. Core apples and chop coarsely; mix with the dressing. Wash and slice celery and carrot thin. Shred greens (cabbage or lettuce). Stir vegetables into the apples and dressing to coat. Stir in raisins, grapes and nuts.

Serve chilled or at room temperature. Serves 2 to 4.

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Leek and Apple Salad

Ingredients:

1 leek

2 teaspoons salt

1 or 2 apples

2 Tablespoons sour cream or plain Greek yogurt (or some of each)

1 teaspoon honey, optional

1/4 cup walnuts, optional

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Directions:

Cut leeks in half lengthwise. Rinse to remove sand, then slice across in 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch slices. Place sliced leeks in colander and mix with the salt. Leave for 30 to 60 minutes, then rinse to remove excess salt and transfer to serving bowl.

Core and chop unpeeled apples, and add to the bowl with leeks. Combine yogurt, sour cream and honey; fold in.

If desired, toast nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until fragrant. Use as garnish.

Serves 2 to 3.

Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached by email at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook at Words are My World.

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