This Shabbat, Jan. 26, is the 15 of the Hebrew month of Shevat: Tu B’Shevat, a holiday known as the New Year for Trees. This is the new year for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing. The day has become a day of celebration of the Land of Israel's bountiful fruits.
Growing up in Minnesota, this was a day on which we gave pennies to “Karen” — the Jewish National Fund called Keren Kayemeth LeYisrael — to plant trees in Israel. Often, we received tiny saplings or plants to take home. And sometimes we ate —or tried to eat — bokser, carob pods.
Since “Tu” actually means 15, many people in Israel hold a seder this day in which they ceremoniously eat 15 different fruits with accompanying blessings and prayers. Fresh fruit is preferred, although Tu B’Shevat and the weeks leading up to it are prime time for the display and sale of local, as well as imported dried dates and figs and other dried fruits, and tons of nuts and seeds.
And, of course, as the children’s ditty relates, Tu B’Shevat is when the almond trees blossom here in Israel. This year, however, they may be delayed because of the recent stormy weather. As soon as the road is clear of fallen trees, I will take a look at our nearby Jerusalem Forest for this annual treat of gorgeous whitish-pink almond blossoms.
Tu B’Shevat Fruit Compote
This dried fruit compote contains no additional sugar and doesn’t require cooking.
1 cup pitted dates
1 cup pitted prunes
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup raisins
1 cup dried apples
11⁄2-2 cups apple juice
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsps. fruit-flavored liqueur
shredded coconut for garnish
Cut dried fruits into small pieces, using a wet scissors. Combine and place in a medium-sized bowl. Cover with apple juice. Stir in cinnamon and liqueur. Refrigerate overnight.
Spoon into small dessert dishes. Sprinkle with coconut.
Serves 8 to 10.
2 lbs. fresh dates
1⁄2 lb. blanched, coarsely chopped almonds
1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon
3 tsps. grated lemon peel
2 tsps. vanilla extract
3 Tbsps. sugar
Slit dates open without separating the two halves. Discard pits. Rinse, dry and set aside.
Combine remaining ingredients. Carefully stuff the prepared dates.
Serve in small fluted papers.
Makes 35 to 40 stuffed dates.
Tu B’Shevat Couscous Fruit Ring
1 package (1 lb.) instant couscous
20 pitted dates
20 almonds, halved
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup walnuts, ground
1⁄2 tsp. salt
grated peel and juice of 1 large orange
1⁄2 cup brown sugar, or to taste
2 Tbsps. honey
3 Tbsps. vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. brandy or fruit-flavored liqueur (optional)
2 Tbsps. pomegranate seeds (optional)
Prepare couscous according to package directions. Fluff with a fork. Press into a ring mold. Turn out mold onto a decorative platter.
Fill each date with two almond halves and arrange in a circle atop couscous. Combine remaining ingredients.
Arrange in the center of the couscous mold. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, if available.
Makes 20 snacks.
Rivka Tal is a former Minnesotan who has lived in Jerusalem for the past 46 years. She is a food writer and a translator. Email her at: talriv@ gmail.com.