You have already met the famous prankster and jester Hershele of Ostropol in some of my previous posts (https://koolkosherkitchen.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/yukh-a-one-eyed-soup, https://koolkosherkitchen.wordpress.com/2016/12/20/summer-latkes-in-december). He is not a fictional character; he actually existed and served as a Shamesh (synagogue attendant) for one of my illustrious ancestors, Rabbi Boruch of Medzhibozh who lived in the second half of 18th – beginning of 19th century. Rabbi Boruch, according to all records (above and beyond my grandmother’s stories) had a melancholy personality and was often prone to “spells of sadness.” It was one of Hershel’s responsibilities to cheer up the Rabbi. Once Rabbi Boruch suggested that it was time for Hershel to get married.
“Right away!” – exclaimed Hershele, and immediately selected a nice girl from a wealthy family. When your Rabbi suggests, you don’t walk, you run to do it, especially a holy Rabbi like Reb Boruch, son of the famous learned daughter of the holy Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism. But the wily jester waited for Purim, when everyone gets tipsy and makes merry because we are commanded to rejoice. Having finished delivering Shalach Mones (AKA Michloach Manot, the food gifts to friends and relatives of the givers on Purim), Hershele went to propose. Dressed the way you see on this illustration, he obviously did not make a good impression on the father until he poured out the contents of his Shalach Mones bag. The wealthy man’s eyes almost popped out of his head – wow! the bag was bursting with money!
“This is how much I can make in one day,” – proudly announced Hershele.
“Yes, but this is Purim! What are you going to do for the rest of the year?”
“Not to worry, ” – said the smart youngster, – “The A-mighty will support us.”
“Come, my wife,” – called the gevir (rich man) to the mother, who was anxiously evesdropping by the door, “Mazel Tov! I give my blessing for this union!”
“But why?!” – cried the bewigged, bejewelled lady, – Just look at this nebech (poor man) in his bedraggled clothes!”
“Because he is the only one in my life who called me “The A-mighty,” – said the bride’s father, and thus started the tradition of wealthy men supporting their smart, but poor sons-in-law.
The four Mitzvos (good deeds) are specifically stated in Megillas Ester (The Scroll of Esther) read on Purim: “This day should be established as a day “of gladness and feasting and of sending portions one individual to his friend and gifts to the poor” Megillas Ester 9:19 – 22). From there we derive “the four M’s”: Mikre (reading the scroll of Esther), Mishte (the festive meal), Matonos l’Evyonim (charity, or gifts to the poor), and Mishloach Manot, or Shalach Mones in Yiddish (sending portions of food and drink to the friends). On the day of Purim, we must send at least two items of ready to eat food to at least one person, “to increase love and friendship between Jews, thereby dismissing Haman’s accusations that there is strife and dissension among Jews” (https://www.aish.com). Just like any commandment, this one is surrounded by different traditions: sending three or more items is considered more praiseworthy than the required two, sending items that require different blessings (even though sending two different kinds of fruit that require the same blessing fulfills the commandment), sending wine or at least grape juice because one is supposed to rejoice on Purim, and, of course, sending Hamentaschen as one of the food items, even though any cookies will serve the same purpose. You can read the history of Hametaschen here.
It is also considered praiseworthy to send these gifts by a third party, thus fulfilling a Mitzvah of having someone else to do a Mitzvah, and children should be entrusted with this mission since the age of about 6. The recipients must confirm or acknowledge that they received it by giving the “courier” something in return, most often money. I can’t claim that the little velvet bag, fashioned by my grandmother, hanging on a ribbon around my neck, was bursting with money like Hershele’s, but it was pretty full by the time I got home to the festive meal.
I have set out to create Hamentaschen that could be sent to and joyfully eaten by people with various dietary restrictions: vegan, vegetarian, non-dairy, sugar free, and gluten free (spelt flour is gluten free for our purposes, but please consult your physician if you have an allegy or celiac disorder). I used almond flour and just a couple of tablespoon of white spelt flour, which could easily be replaced by gluten free flour. It has dawned on me afterwards, that I could have used oat flour; perhaps next year… I also used Xylitol, but feel free to use real sugar or any dry sugar substitute of your choice. No eggs needed; simply mix all dry ingredients (that’s all three of them!), and add 2 – 3 tablespoons of water. Use any sugar free filling you like, form triangular pastries, place them upside down on a barely misted with oil baking sheet, mist them with oil as well, and don’t forget to sprinkle poppy seeds on top. This is it, Beautiful People: 18 minutes, then some cooling time, and your perfectly dietetic Hamentaschen are ready to be packed in a gift bag. My gift bags this year include mandarine oranges, which require a blessing on fruit, and little bottles of tequila, the trendy drink of our community. This year, due to Covid, the services will be outside in the yard and there will be no communal festive meal, with music and the costume pageant. The mask I will be wearing is a Covid mask, but it does have a cat on it – what did you expect? – and I will be making lots of noise playing my castanets.
- 1 cup fine almound flour
- 2 tablespoons white spelt flour or any gluten free flour
- 3 tablespoons xylitol or any sweetener
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 – 3 tablespoons of water
- Sugar free jam or preserve, preferably dark as Haman’s heart
- Poppy seed for topping
- Preheat stove to 350 F.
- Mix dry ingredients.
- Gradually add water, bring to soft dough consistency.
- Turn dough out on floured board or surface, roll out, cut circles.
- Place filling (jam or preserve) in the center. Form triangles to cover filling completely.
- Place pastries on misted with oil baking sheet seam side down about 1 inch from each other, mist with oil, sprinkle with poppy seeds.
- Bake for 18 minutes, cool on rack.
Happy Purim! Hag Purim Sameach!