Making goat or sheep's milk labneh.
The Aufruf Feast
Symbolic Foods Inspired By The Song Of Songs
-- Ronit Treatman
What were the foods of love before chocolate? I was wondering about this as I began planning a meal in honor of the Aufruf for my brother and his fiancée. The Aufruf is a celebration that takes place in the synagogue the Shabbat before the wedding. The groom (and in egalitarian synagogues also the bride) is called up to an aliya. “Aufruf” in German means, “to be called up.” After the Torah is read, candy is thrown at the bride and groom. It is the custom for the bride and groom to invite everyone present at the service to a celebratory Kiddush. After conducting some research, I could not find any dishes that are traditionally served at an Aufruf. I wanted to prepare something symbolic and meaningful.
My dear friend Betsy Teutsch advised me to examine the Song of Songs for ideas. In the Song of Songs, we read about how “the swarthy Shulammite” woman and the fair shepherd with curly black hair use the foods of seduction from Israel to attract each other, and to consummate their desire. The Song of Songs is a very romantic poem, and in many cases, the foods mentioned in it serve as erotic metaphors. In preparing a meal for my brother and his intended, I wanted to take these romantic foods with all their metaphoric energy, and use them to construct a meal that could also symbolize the other elements of a successful marriage: a menu for sustenance, resilience, and rejoicing.
Symbols of Sustenance
Every marriage needs to stand on a strong foundation. The first building block of this foundation is sustenance. Sustenance is the means of maintaining life through nourishment and a livelihood. The basic staples of the diet during the times of King Solomon were bread, milk, and wine. In chapter 5, verse 1, the shepherd says, “I have drunk my wine with my milk.” In those days, milk came from sheep and goats. The most common milk product was labneh, a type of yogurt cheese. Even those of us who don’t happen to have a pet goat or sheep in our back yard can easily make our own goat milk and/or sheep’s milk labneh. The following is a recipe.
Goat or Sheep’s Milk Labneh
Take 2 cups of plain goat or sheep’s milk yogurt. Put three pieces of moistened cheesecloth inside a colander. Pour the yogurt into the colander. Tie the corners of the cheesecloth together to hold the yogurt. Allow the cheesecloth bag to drain over the sink between 8 and 16 hours.
Goat’s milk yogurt is available here, and is for sale at Whole Foods.
Sheep’s milk yogurt is available here, and also at Whole Foods.
Labneh was scooped up with fresh, hot pita bread. The Levant was one of the first places where grain was intentionally planted, tended, and harvested. The Israelites would rub the wheat berries or barley seeds between two stones to grind them into flour. About 12,000 years ago, the first bread was baked by mixing grains that had been ground in this way with water and placing the dough on stones heated in a fire. The dough from the time of the Song of Songs was made with ground wheat and a type of sourdough starter. Einkorn wheat, the species of wheat used back then, was higher in protein than the wheat that is ground into flour today. The Israelites obtained about half the calories of their diet from wheat. Bread was such an important part of their diet that “lehem,” the Hebrew word for “bread,” also means “food.” The type of bread they would bake was pita bread. Below is one way to prepare it.
- 3 cups wheat flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 package dry yeast
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the yeast with the warm water. Add the flour and salt, and knead for about five minutes. Allow the dough to rise until it triples in size. Cut the dough into six equal portions, shaping them into balls. Bake for approximately ten minutes. For a more authentic Biblical taste, place them on a baking sheet over hot coals in a barbeque. Cover, and cook for a few minutes until done.
The first grape vines came to the Land of Israel from Ararat (Armenia) or Shiraz in Persia. It is believed that wine was initially produced in the Near East about 8,000 years ago. The Israelites are thought to have learned how to make wine from the Canaanites and Phoenicians. Noah was the first to plant a vineyard, and “yayin” or wine is mentioned 141 times in the Hebrew Bible. Strong wine would be mixed with weaker wine, or water. Wine was an important source of iron, sugar, and calories in the diet when the Song of Songs was composed. Pita with labneh pairs well with Sauvignon Blanc.
Israeli Sauvignon Blanc
There is an excellent selection of reasonably priced Israeli Sauvignon Blanc wines here.
By serving pita, labneh, and grape wine, we wish the couple a good livelihood.
Symbols of Resilience
Resilience is one of the most important ingredients of a successful marriage. Being resilient is being able to withstand the difficulties of life and continuing onward. In chapter 2, verse 5, in order to strengthen herself, the Shulammite woman says, “Stay ye me with dainties,” or in Hebrew “ashishot.” What were “ashishot”? No one is certain. Hosea (3:1) mentions “ashishei anavim,’ which has been translated to “raisin cakes.” Raisin cakes were an aphrodisiac food for the Canaanites. Rashi explained that “ashishot” were lentil flour cakes. In the Jerusalem Talmud (Nedarim, chapter 6, page 40a), “ashishot” are described as “lentils that were roasted, ground, mixed with honey, and fried.”
Ashishot: A Fortifying Biblical Repast
Adapted from Dr. Tova Dikstein and Chef Nadav Granot at Neot Kedumim
- 4 tablespoos olive oil
- 1 cup of red lentils
- 1/2 cup of sesame seeds
- 3 tablespoons of flour
- 3 tablespoons of honey
- 3 tablespoons of water
- 2 eggs
Warm the honey in a covered pot over a low flame.
Toast the lentils, then grind in a food processor.
Toast the sesame seeds.
Mix the ground lentils, toasted sesame seeds, and flour.
Add the eggs to the mixture.
Heat the olive oil in a pan.
Spoon the dough into the hot oil to make small pancakes.
Pour the warm honey mixture over the pancakes.
When the honey has been absorbed, the ashishot are ready.
“Refresh me with apples,” the Shulammite woman continues in chapter 2, verse 5. Apples are originally from Central Asia, with the greatest diversity found in Turkey. The apple tree is one of the first wild trees to be cultivated. It belongs to the rose family. In chapter 2, verse 3, she describes her delight at sitting in the shade of an apple tree, “its fruit was sweet to my taste.” More than 10,000 varieties of apples are grown around the world.
Serve apples next too the Ashishot.
The most readily available in the United States are Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, Braeburn, Honeycrisp, Cripps Pink, and Cameo.
Serve an assortment of apples in a basket next to the Ashishot to experience the combination of flavors that the Shulammite woman was seeking. The ashishot and apples on the menu represent our desire for the couple to be strong, and to persevere when times are hard.
Symbols of Rejoicing
Most importantly, an Aufruf is a time of rejoicing! In every happy marriage, the couple accentuates what is good, what there is to be thankful for. In chapter 4, verse 11, the shepherd says, “honey and milk are under thy tongue,” to describe the sweetness of his Shulammite love. We can combine those flavors in a honey cheesecake recipe, made with sheep’s or goat milk ricotta, to remain true to the flavors of Solomonic Israel.
Precious spices are brought out for the occasion. In chapter 4, verses 13-14, the shepherd says, “saffron…and cinnamon… all the rare spices.” Cinnamon originated in what is now Sri Lanka. The bark of this small evergreen tree is what is used as a spice. In the days of Solomon, cinnamon was imported by Egypt and sold to people in Israel. The saffron crocus grew in Israel. Saffron is the dry stigma of the saffron crocus. It is red, and when used in cooking, produces a golden-yellow dye. Its origin is on the banks of the Euphrates. The Song of Songs is the only place in the Bible where saffron is mentioned. It is still the most expensive spice in the world! These spices add a distinctive flavor and color to the cheesecake. In chapter 6, verse 11, the shepherd says, “I went down into the garden of nuts.” The nuts that grew in Israel were almonds, pistachio, and walnuts. This was probably a garden of walnuts. We will be using all three to make the decadent, crunchy crust of our cheesecake.
Honey Cheesecake With Saffron and Cinnamon
All cheese available at Whole Foods
- 1 cup finely chopped almonds, walnuts, and pistachios.
- 2 tablespoons melted goat or sheep’s milk butter , or sheep’s milk butter.
- 12 ounces drained sheep’s milk ricotta or goat milk ricotta.
- 6 tablespoons unsalted goat milk butter or sheep’s milk butter or sheep’s milk butter.
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix the ground nuts with the melted butter and spread on the bottom of a porcelain baking dish. Bake for about 15 minutes then take out of the oven. Mix all the other ingredients together. Pour the cheese mixture into the baking dish. Bake for one hour. When the cake has sufficiently cooled, refrigerate overnight. Serve cold.
To conclude the festive meal, one of the most expensive beverages of Israel during the reign of King Solomon may be served with this cheesecake. It is described in chapter 8, verse 2, “spiced wine, of the juice of my pomegranate.” This is the only wine that was not made from grapes that is mentioned in the Bible. Pomegranates originated in Persia and the Himalaya Mountains. They were brought to Ancient Israel via the Silk Road and by sea. This beautiful fruit is one of the Seven Species of the Land of Israel. In Jewish tradition, a pomegranate is believed to have 613 seeds, just like the number of mitzvot in the Torah. Due to the numerousness of their seeds, pomegranates also symbolize fertility. Pomegranates were very important during the reign of King Solomon. They decorated the pillars in the Temple and the robes of the High Priest.
One brand of pomegranate wine.
Pomegranate wine making was a significant industry in Israel as can be noted by name of the Biblical settlement of “Gath Rimon,” or “the press of the pomegranate,” located along the Yarkon river near present day Tel Aviv. These fruits had a short harvest season during August and September. The pomegranates would be picked and carried in baskets. They would be placed near the winepress. Some pomegranates would be transferred to the treading floor. The treading floor was a shallow basin usually chiseled out of rock. The Israelites would stomp on the pomegrates with their feet to squeeze the juice out. A canal was carved into the rock to connect the treading floor with a collecting pool below. The juice would flow downhill through this canal leaving the skins and seeds from the fruit on the treading floor. The pomegranate juice would accumulate in the pool, also hewn into the rocks. Large, elongated clay jars would be filled with the juice from this pool. They would be stored in a cool cave and the juice would be allowed to ferment into wine. In the warm climate of the Near East, the wine would be ready for consumption in forty days. It would be served with spices such as cinnamon. Pomegranate wine is here. Rimon wine is made from pomegranates grown in Israel. It is the most authentic approximation to the wine described in the Song of Songs. Heating wine was a common practice during the days of King Solomon. This spiced wine is served hot, as the Shulammite woman and the shepherd may have consumed it.
Hot Spiced Pomegranate Wine
- 1 bottle Rimon pomegranate wine
- 2 sticks of cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons honey
- Pour the wine into a saucepan.
- Stir in the cinnamon stick and honey.
- Simmer for 15 minutes.
- Serve immediately, garnished with a cinnamon stick.
A rich cheesecake and spiced pomegranate wine represent celebrating the joyous occasions in life. It is a very special moment when two people find each other and commit to building a life and a family together. This is a time to pull out all the stops and celebrate with the best delicacies!
When celebrating a joyous occasion such as an Aufruf, we can transmit our wishes for the happy couple by serving symbolic foods. The Song of Songs is replete with ideas from Ancient Israel. The wisdom of our foreparents is reflected in the need to make sure that there is a strong foundation of sustenance in the marriage. We serve pita, labneh, and grape wine to symbolize “parnassah” or a livelihood. “Ashishot” and apples are for resilience, the ability to move on after setbacks in life. The Shulammite woman requests these foods to be able to continue onward despite her difficulties. When our bride and groom eat ashishot and apples, the couple is absorbing our desire for them to strengthen themselves so they may successfully overcome the difficulties of life and emerge stronger after contending with their challenges. All the richest, rarest foods possible are for rejoicing! A rich, nutty cheesecake with hot, spiced pomegranate wine represent the most extravagant pairing available to recreate the celebratory foods of Biblical times.
An Aufruf is an occasion to focus on celebrating love. The Shulammite woman and her shepherd exemplify two people who are “bashert,” and who persevere until it is established that “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine,” (chapter 6, verse 3). May every bride and groom be as blessed as the Shulammite and her cherished shepherd in the Song of Songs.
Lovingly dedicated to Yosef Refaeli and Traci Wallis on the occasion of their Aufruf, April 24, 2010.
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