I am sure this was more of an afterthought. It was like, hey, we are already making traditional green savory pies, why not bake something sweet for kids to enjoy! I remember my father, the quintessential kid, sneaking into my grandmother’s kitchen to snack on the sweet filling while the dough was being rolled and stretched paper thin. Far from admonishing him, she would purposely leave some in the bowl for him to finish, after the pie was rolled. Sure, you can just throw some raisins into farmer cheese, add sugar and vanilla, and get the same thing – almost! They even package it like that, with a hechsher (Kosher certification). But then it would be no fun, would it?
We don’t use sugar, though. Strangely enough, my grandmother, born and raised in the traditions of a kleine shteitl, within the Eastern European Pale of Settlement, made quite a few holiday dishes the Sephardi way. On Shavuos, some Sephardi communities take “the land flowing with milk and honey” description literally and thus, in addition to burekas, flaky pastries stuffed with cheese, serve a seven-layer cake called siete cielos, made with honey. Turkish Jews follow the Song of Songs line “milk and honey are under your tongue” by making, perhaps, the most symbolic of all Shavuos treats, soutlach, which is a rice pudding with milk, honey, and rose water. Rice is white, alluding to the purity of Torah given on Shavuos , but it is also one of the symbols of fertility and is traditionally served at weddings. Accepting the Torah is usually compared to a betrothal. The Jewish nation is likened to a “beloved rose with thirteen petals”, and King Solomon in the same Shir haShirim (Song of Songs) calls himself The Rose of Sharon.
The milk and honey metaphor for prosperity and overall well-being has become so universal that even Winnie the Pooh ends up in the Village of Milk and Honey. He is dreaming of…
So instead of sugar, we add the “sticky, licky stuff” to farmer cheese, raisins, egg, and vanilla, only I have substituted agave nectar – sorry, King Solomon!
In this fantastic example of the ancient Jewish art of miniature calligraphy we had brought from the Israeli city of Tzfat, otherwise known as Tzfas or Safed, the entire Shir haShirim, all 8 chapters of it, every word of it is worked into the design. Tzfas is the city of mystics and artists, and mystical artists, and the spirituality there is so intense, you can breathe it, smell it, and almost touch it. Even though there are no specific observances required for the holiday of Shavuos, this piece of art contains every conceivable image related to it: the crown of King Solomon, both versions of the kinor (King David’s harp) because we still can’t decide whether it looked like a harp or like a lute, a three-string predecessor of a guitar used by the Leviyim during the Temple services, and even the leftovers of barley and wheat harvests that Ruth was gleaning from Boaz’ field. In the center, of course, is the Jewish nation, “a rose among thorns.”
So put this sweet cheese and raisins pie on your table together with appetizers, to remind your guests of milk and honey, the pure light of the Torah, and the joy of Shavuos.
- 4 to 6 layers of Fillo or any other flaky dough
- 1 lb farmer cheese, very dry
- 1 egg, and one more for glazing
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/4 cup agave nectar or honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Prepare filling by mixing farmer cheese, egg, raisins, agave, and vanilla. If you can’t get (or make) real dry Russian style farmer cheese, the filling might come out too watery. In this case, add one tablespoon of regular white flour.
- For further instructions, please refer to my Cheese and Scallions Pie post.