The Jewish Internet with Mark Mietkiewicz, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer
Shavuot is almost here. For a people hooked on a holiday diet of meat and poultry, Shavuot is unique on our gastronomic calendar: a festival that celebrates dairy food.
Shavuot is best known for the giving of the Torah so why the association with dairy? The Jewish Celebrations site lists six reasons. Two of the most famous: On Shavuot, the Jewish people received a new code of law, including the dietary restrictions that became part of their daily life. Since the new laws of separating meat and milk were still unclear, only dairy products were eaten on Shavuot to avoid transgressing the unfamiliar laws.
And for those into Gematriah, Jewish numerology, “The Hebrew word for milk, chalav, has the numerical value of 40, symbolizing the number of days Moses was on Mt. Sinai. Chalav is spelled chet (numerical value, 8), lamed (30), and vet (2) (http://bit.ly/shavcheese1).”
Others look for allusions in the Torah which suggest we eat dairy to symbolize the “land flowing with milk and honey (Ex. 3:8).” Or that the Torah is compared to milk, as is written in Song of Songs: “Sweetness drops / From your lips, O bride; Honey and milk / Are under your tongue (bit.ly/shavcheese2).”
As for the recipes themselves, the Jewish-Food Blintz Archives has three dozen variations including Berry-Topped, New Mexico Kaese, and Asparagus and Cheese (bit.ly/shavcheese3).
And if you are tired of the same old chocolate cheesecake, the Jewishfood List has a gut-busting supply of 83 recipes including Pumpkin Swirl, Triple Threat and Etrog Zest (bit.ly/shavcheese4).
Of course, there’s more to Shavuot fare than blintzes and cheesecake. At Let’s All Eat Dairy, Rosalyn Manesse has prepared a menu with Sephardic-Style Fish, Linguine Primavera and Dairy Scones (bit.ly/shavcheese5).
At Kosher Delight, you’ll find dozens of other ideas including Chana’s Grated Cucumber Salad with Pistachios, Raisins and Yogurt and Michael Fierro’s Four-Cheese Herb Quiche (bit.ly/shavcheese6).
The recipes sound mouth-watering but what to do about all the calories, saturated fat and cholesterol? Marcy Goldman notes that “Shavuot is not congruent with some of the caveats of the American Heart Institute but you can always substitute low fat cream cheese, sour cream, or any other dairy item, so easily available these days. Shavuot is however, a fine occasion to boost your calcium, so enjoy (bit.ly/shavcheese7).”
While some people will be more than satisfied to pile on the blintzes and cheesecake, for others a Jewish holiday isn’t a holiday without a nice piece of chicken. So they dine on both — dairy and meat — only not at the same time.
In Cheese Blintzes and Beef Wellington, Rabbi Moshe Donnebaum explains the Shavuot tradition of having a dairy meal shortly followed by a meat one, and the sometimes intricate rules governing all this dining (bit.ly/shavcheese8).
After coming across all these mouth-watering recipes, Linda Morel’s article In praise of a neglected Shavuot soup hit a nerve.
“Schav, the khaki-colored soup once savored by Ashkenazic Jews, has fallen on hard times in recent decades,” writes Morel.
I actually remember eyeing strange bottles in the back of our fridge and wondered who would drink that green liquid.
Morel explains “schav is made from milk or cream, simmered with chopped sorrel leaves” and was seen as a refreshing alternative to the bland foods with which European Jews had to make do.
The once popular food has fallen into disfavor of late. Maybe it’s time to rediscover the traditional soup as well as a recipe for Sorrel Potato Salad that Morel supplies (bit.ly/shavcheese9).
The recipes mentioned above are undeniably delicious. But I believe that the tastiest part of any holiday is its memories.
I’m sure that Cyndi and her beloved Auntie Rivka would agree. It seems that Cyndi’s family had mouse problems in their home and decided to set out some mousetraps. When Auntie Rivka dropped by to make some Shavuot blintzes, her niece quickly scooped the traps up and hid them in the freezer. When her aunt reached into the freezer to put away the cream cheese and — well, let’s just say “Auntie Rivka never went into Mother’s freezer again (bit.ly/shavcheese10).”
Mark Mietkiewicz may be reached at email@example.com.
To read the complete June 2014 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.