|Fruits for our Tu Bishevat dinner: olives, raisins, dates, figs, prunes, avocado, apple orange, grapes, a pomegranate, and tomatoes. |
We included both new and old-world species. Our Israeli placemats depict grapes and pomegranates.
The minor Jewish festival of Tu BiShevat began on the evening of January 27 this year, which is the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat in the Hebrew calendar. Like many Jewish festivals, Tu BiShevat reflects seasonal agricultural in ancient Israel; specifically it's the "New Year of the Trees" -- that is, the time when trees bloom and when seedlings should be planted. This agricultural new year was distinct from the fall New Year, Rosh Hashanah, which marks the start of the new calendar year and is also a time of reflection about renewing one's spiritual and moral commitments. This is different!
|”Tu Bishvat” by Israeli Artist Ze’ev Raban (1890-1970) |
(From The Jerusalem Post)
In modern life, the holiday of Tu BiShevat has become a holiday of environmental awareness as well as celebrating fruit and vegetable produce and being a time to start new endeavors. We once attended an Israeli celebration of this holiday, which is secular, but is based on the medieval Jewish and Kabbalist traditions. A platter of fresh and dried fruits and nuts grown in Israel was the main refreshment at the party we attended. Israeli farmers and kibbutz residents for 150 years have planted trees to celebrate the holiday, a custom that they restored from Biblical tradition.
Tu BiShevat customs varied throughout the diaspora, where Jewish communities lived in many climates with varied produce available at that time of year. In northern Europe, where the holiday falls in the coldest part of winter, most of the fruit used in the ritual was dried fruit with maybe a rare and expensive orange in addition to raisins, almonds, dried apricots, and prunes. Religious ritual was founded on the belief that "every piece of fruit–which can be considered the parent generation–holds the seed of the next generation, in other words, the potential for new life. If, when we eat the fruit, which releases the seed, we do so in a holy way–with proper blessing and gratitude–then we are helping God to renew nature, and the flow of life continues." (source) Thus diaspora tradition involved eating a large selection of fruits (as many as 15) and drinking wine along with reciting prescribed prayers.
|From the "seven species"-- pomegranate molasses,|
wine, olive oil, dates, figs, and bread (made of wheat/barley).
Thanks to being locked down in my home this year, I've decided to think about what this holiday can mean to me. For example, I'm thinking of the early list of produce in the Biblical tradition: the "seven species" recognized as ritually and practically important to ancient Jewish life, and often associated with the holiday. The "seven species" were wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates, which could be eaten alone or used to produce several key foods: bread, wine, olive oil, and date honey, an important sweetener before the introduction of sugar cane. Modern celebrations add other Israeli produce like carob (also mentioned in the Bible), citrus fruits, apricots, almonds, and other nuts. I find it fascinating that all seven of the Biblical products are still with us, and I have them on hand in one form or another.
Thinking about the Biblical list of traditional produce also makes me think of how cultures on every continent have celebrated important fruits and vegetables, which continue to play an important role in worldwide cuisine and nutrition today.
- In North America before European arrival, the "three sisters" -- corn, beans, and squash -- were traditionally listed as a key part of the diet. These and many other cultivated New World species (like tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and chocolate) have become important culinary elements throughout the world.
- In China, a long tradition celebrated "five grains" as a staple of cuisine and diet. The list varied during the thousands of years of Chinese history -- rice, millet, wheat, barley, soy and adzuki beans, sesame, and sorghum appeared on the list at different times.
- Another example of key produce items: enslaved Africans brought several important foods on their terrible tragic voyages, and then introduced them to American agriculture. These included rice, okra, black-eyed peas, watermelon, and others. The African contribution to American and worldwide agriculture is often overlooked, and I've just been learning about it.
|Fruit for Tu B' Shevat -- also a dish of bright green olives,|
From a celebration I attended in 2013. (link)
|Ready to eat: besides the many fruits, we had a glass of wine, a dish of mushrooms, and some bread and butter.|