JERUSALEM (JTA) — Among the familiar customs of Rosh Hashanah is the dipping of apple pieces in honey — but what is its origin?
King David had a “cake made in a pan and a sweet cake” (II Samuel 6: 15, 19) given to everyone. Hosea 3:1 identifies the “sweet cake” as a raisin cake.
Honey also may have been used in the cake, but the honey of ancient eretz Yisrael was made from dates, grapes, figs or raisins, because the land at the time had no domestic bees, only Syrian bees. To extract honey from their combs, it had to be smoked.
During the Roman period, Italian bees were introduced to the Middle East, and bee honey became more common.
The Torah also describes Israel as “eretz zvat chalav u’dvash,” the land flowing with milk and honey, although the honey was more than likely date honey, a custom retained by many Sephardic Jews to this day.
Today, Israel has some 500 beekeepers with some 90,000 beehives that produce more than 3,500 tons of honey annually. Kibbutz Yad Mordechai is the largest producer of honey — 10,000 bottles a day.
Dipping the apple in honey on Rosh Hashanah is said to symbolize the desire for a sweet New Year. Why an apple? In Bereshit, the book of Genesis, Isaac compares the fragrance of his son, Jacob, to “sadeh shel tapuchim,” a field of apple trees.
Scholars tell us that mystical powers were ascribed to the apple, and people believed it provided good health and personal well-being.
Some attribute the using of an apple to the translation of the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit that caused the expulsion from paradise.
The word honey, or “dvash” in Hebrew, has the same numerical value as the words “Av Harachamim,” Father of Mercy. Jews hope that God will be merciful on Rosh Hashanah as He judges us for our year’s deeds.
Moroccans dip apples in honey and serve cooked quince, an apple-like fruit, symbolizing a sweet future. Other Moroccans dip dates in sesame and anise seeds and powdered sugar in addition to dipping apples in honey.
Among some Jews from Egypt, a sweet jelly made of gourds or coconut is used to ensure a sweet year and apples are dipped in sugar water instead of honey.
Honey is also used by Jews around the world not only for dipping apples, but in desserts. Some maintain in the phrase “go you way, eat the fat, drink the sweet,” sweet refers to apples and honey.
The recipes below will help make your Rosh Hashanah sweet.
Chicken with Honey Fruit Sauce
3/4 cup apricot jam
1-1/2 cups orange juice
1-1/2 cups red wine
1 Tbs. ginger
2 tsp. garlic powder
1-1/2 tsp. thyme
2 Tbs. honey
2 tsp. corn starch
2 tsp. cold water
6 oz. apricots
6 oz. prunes
3 to 4 pounds cut-up chicken
Preheat oven to 350º. Grease a baking dish. Place chicken parts in dish. Set aside.
Place apricot jam, orange juice, red wine, ginger, garlic powder, thyme and honey in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer to reduce to 3 cups. Stir in corn starch and water, then blend. Add apricots and prunes. Pour over chicken. Bake in preheated oven 45 minutes or until chicken is done.
Makes 6 servings
Apples and Honey Cake
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup sugar or sugar substitute
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
3 cups grated, unpeeled apples
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup non-dairy creamer or parve whipping cream
1/2 cup honey or honey substitute
Preheat oven to 325º. Grease a bundt pan.
In a mixer or food processor, blend flour, baking soda, salt, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Add apples. Add eggs, vanilla, oil, non-dairy creamer or whipping cream, and honey and blend slightly. Pour into greased bundt pan. Bake 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool before removing from pan.