After cooking and eating, my favorite pastime is gardening. Since celebrating Tu Bishvat, the Festival of Trees, combines all three, it’s one of my favorite holidays.
Some years ago my brother, Tzvi Kahn, told me how much his daughter Renana enjoyed celebrating Tu Bishvat at her school in Jerusalem with a Tu B’Shevat “seder”. This custom is becoming popular now in Israel but has its origins in ancient Tzfat. It includes drinking four glasses of wine–or grape juice in some homes–to symbolize the gradual change from winter to summer.
Other holiday customs include eating at least seven fruits, such as figs, dates, raisins or olives as well as almonds and other nuts. Because Tu Bishvat occurs in late winter, when traditionally there wasn’t much fresh fruit, it is honored by including dried fruit in meals and desserts. I love to use dried fruit in cakes or pastries as well as in sweet casseroles such as one that combines dried figs, dried apricots, sweet potatoes, orange juice and ginger.
For cakes and sweet kugels I often make use of a popular French technique for using dried fruit. Before adding them to the batter, I soak them first in rum or fruit liqueur. Doing this not only plumps them and makes them tender; it really wakes up their flavor.
Going green seems like a modern trend but it is the traditional theme of Tu B’Shevat, which ideally is celebrated by planting trees. My husband, Yakir, and I had an especially wonderful Tu Bishvat a few years ago, as he planted 3 peach trees, 2 persimmon trees and 2 plum trees. To plant one of the peach trees on our rocky hillside, he had to use an iron spear or “concrete breaker” to split the big rocks before removing them. He continued removing rocks until the hole for the tree was almost as deep as I am tall! But we immediately saw the reward. After a few months the peach tree graced our garden with its lovely pink flowers.
Impressed, our neighbor down the hill asked Yakir, “What is your model in planning your garden, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon?”
“No,” was his immediate reply, “the Garden of Eden!”
Indeed, when we picked the first fruits from our trees, we surely felt as lucky as Adam and Eve.
Happy Tu Bishvat!
Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home (Morrow), 1,000 Jewish Recipes (Wiley) and Jewish Cooking For Dummies (Wiley).
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.