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September 4, 2013

Fresh possibilities

Early Rosh Hashana means cooks can take advantage of summer's bounty

Rosh Hashana typically is a solidly autumnal holiday, falling sometimes as late as October. But this year, the Jewish New Year comes early — the first week of September, a time when summer’s bounty is still fresh for much of the country.

“It’s a gift,” says kosher chef Laura Frankel, executive chef for Wolfgang Puck Kosher Catering in Chicago. The holiday falling at the height of the harvest season presents an abundance of culinary opportunities for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur cooking, she explains.

The timing presents cooks with completely different choices in terms of what foods — particularly produce — are in the markets.

Frankel says her cooking theme this year is clean and simple because the produce is fresh and ripe. Rather than the traditional cooked borscht soup made with late-season beets, she’ll be serving salads with thinly sliced raw beets. For desserts, she’ll do simple fresh fruit galettes with an olive oil and egg yolk pastry crust.

Because the holiday is early, for example, there are fewer varieties of apples (a staple of the holiday) than usual, but more stone fruits, tomatoes and eggplants, she says.

The careful choice of Rosh Hashana foods is significant, because like most Jewish holidays, which are all in some way tied to the agricultural calendar, foods are an important part of the celebration and are loaded with symbolism.

The typical Rosh Hashana meal is filled with sweet foods, such as apples and honey, to represent the hope for a sweet year to come. Enjoying newly harvested fruits is also important, as is offering a round challah loaf studded with sweet dried fruit, which some think symbolizes the cyclical nature of life or perhaps the crown that marks God as the king of the world.

This high holiday has come to represent the beginning of the new harvest year. And that has deep meaning for David and Jamie Baker, who gave up a high-end lifestyle on the North Shore of Chicago to start Primrose Valley Farm in south-central Wisconsin. The organic farm, which also has a kosher cooking facility, sells community-sustained agriculture shares to locals and provides more than 5,000 pounds of produce a year to The Ark in Chicago, which offers assistance to members of the city’s Jewish community.

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