What does Rosh Hashana mean to you? This is both a joyous time and difficult period among Jews. Rosh Hashana literally means “head of the year,” and it is a time that is marked with both anticipation and inward exploration. The ten days between Rosh Hashana and the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, are known as the Days of Awe. During these days, we seek the forgiveness of people we have wronged during the past year, so we can start the year anew.
On Rosh Hashana, we gather to eat a traditional dinner together, which, of course, will include my mother Elaine Evnen’s recipe for matzo ball soup. My brother and I are deciding whether we will make the traditional brisket with roasted potatoes, or prepare short beef ribs and polenta for dinner.
What is the significance of honey and the tradition of honey cake during Rosh Hashana? Meals during Rosh Hashana include apples and honey, which symbolize hope for sweetness in the coming year. My favorite recipe is this Honey Cake, which uses applesauce and honey, combining the ever-present symbolic foods of Rosh Hashana. Honey Cake can be served before the meal, after people return from services — or shul — and is also served during or after the meal.
My honey cake is made with honey from my father Everett Evnen’s beehives in Lincoln, Nebraska, which is a beloved resource. My dad has kept bees for years, and has gleaned probably a ton of honey, yet has never sold a jar. It’s always given as a gift, and it finds its way into my Honey Cake every year. The beehives are surrounded by acres of wildflowers he has planted to support the bees and the honey is very pure and just beautiful.
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Can you explain the food-family connection apparent within the Jewish community? There is just nothing better than watching the people you love enjoy the food you’ve prepared for them. Preparing family recipes can literally be a taste of family — a wonderful memory of your heritage. It’s always been important to me to maintain family traditions around the table. As Jewish people, we have so many opportunities to gather, after a day — or days — of worship, we also experience the history of food that our mothers and grandmothers prepared.
I wish I could make my Grandmother Dorothy Evnen’s carrot ring with real schmaltz (rendered and clarified chicken fat) baked in a funny little carrot ring mold, served with peas, in the center of the ring on the plate. But I don’t keep schmaltz and the mold is, sadly, long lost. My mother’s chicken soup embodies a deeply valued tradition, with thousands of gallons created in her pressure cooker. Her soup is comfort and healing in a bowl. It represents a solid flavor memory.
How does your interest in food extend beyond traditional Jewish offerings? The Kansas City food scene is really, really interesting to me and I am a poser in a group of true culinary experts, also known as the Kansas City Hard Core Foodies. These people amaze me with their creativity, energy and knowledge and are connected in real ways with the expert chefs we have in our community.
For me food is art and creating a meal is not only about passion, it’s also about vulnerability. As a painter spends time conceptualizing and working on a canvas, it is no small accomplishment for a chef to be as passionate about conceptualizing and preparing food.
While I have a true appreciation of food, I am a pretty simple cook. With my children in college now, there is an opportunity to reclaim the kitchen counter and begin to experiment. However, I think simple is best, and lots of the time that means going back to the traditional recipes.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. E-mail her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Judith Evnen Benson
On Sunday, Sept. 13, at sundown, Judith Evnen Benson will gather with family and friends to celebrate the beginning of Rosh Hashana, commonly referred to as the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashana is the first of 10 days set aside for reflection culminating in the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur.
Residence: Overland Park
Occupation: She has a master’s in social work and owned an executive coaching business.
Special cooking interest: Preserving Jewish traditions through food.
Family: Son, Sam, 21, and daughter, Emma, 18
Makes 48 servings
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 (16-ounce) jar honey
1 cup sugar
2 cups chunky applesauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat the inside of a 9-by-13-inch glass baking pan with cooking spray and dust with flour. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, sift flour, baking soda, cinnamon and ginger together. Set aside.
In a separate large mixing bowl, using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer, beat honey and eggs together until well incorporated. Add sugar and applesauce to bowl and mix until sugar dissolves. Slowly add sifted ingredients, stopping mixer occasionally to scrape down sides.
Pour batter into prepared baking pan and bake for 50 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool before slicing and serving.
Per serving: 92 calories (4 percent from fat), .5 gram total fat (trace saturated fat), 13.5 milligrams cholesterol, 21 grams carbohydrates, 1.5 grams protein, 31.5 milligrams sodium, .5 gram dietary fiber.
Adapted from Phyllis Sarto’s recipe in California Kosher cookbook.