I wrestled with my warmest waterproof boots, grabbed my camera and began to hunt for signs of spring last week. There were spots of snow everywhere but some sunnier patches in my yard made way for tufts of bright green shoots. Good thing I was looking then, since temps have plummeted into the Arctic zone in the Northeast this week.
Not even writing this post could prompt me to take off my gloves to click the shutter with bare finger tips when it’s ten degrees out there. Like everything in life, it’s all in the timing.
Since I started writing this blog, I have committed to this ritual of searching for unexpected growth pushing through the frozen land. I love hunting for these subtle early harbingers of spring as we prepare to celebrate Tu Bishvat, the Jewish birthday of the trees.
I found young bulbs pushing forth and buds tinged the faintest rosy blush. On that sunny day, it seemed that all of nature was straining for some reassuring warmth from the winter sun.
Tu Bishvat (the fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Sh’vat) falls on January 25/26 this year. In Israel, bolder signs of spring have appeared and some of the spring fruits have actually been harvested.
In a fascinating article by Rabbi Susan Silverman in My Jewish Learning, she describes the evolving tradition of a Tu Bishvat Seder. She explains that the Tu Bishvat Seder was created by Jewish mystics in the 16th century in the spiritual center of Tzfat (Safed) in northern Israel.
“They recognized the many and varied dimensions of G-d’s creation and used the fruits of Israel to symbolize their existence.”
While the revived tradition of celebrating the renewal of the seasons with a ritual Seder is flexible, it is an opportunity for contemporary Jews who are passionate about farming, nature, ecology, and eating seasonally, to pause and celebrate our connection to the land.
Four glasses of wine are drunk, beginning with a white wine, symbolizing winter and then combining white and red wines relating to the changing seasons.
Silverman enumerates the four categories of fruits and nuts traditionally served at this kabbalistic Seder, modeled after the Passover Seder. She explains the attributes, energies and characteristics of each category.
The tradition in many communities is to simply eat fruits and nuts grown in Israel or those mentioned in the Bible. Almond trees are the first to bloom in Israel and are often included in Tu B’shvat recipes.
While searching for a way to include some of these in a special celebratory dish in honor of the birthday of the trees I found this appealing and easy recipe from Kim Kushner’s new kosher cookbook, The Modern Menu. Chock full of seasonal menus and abiding by Kushner’s mantra of “Less is more. Simple is best,” I have placed my book order and can only hope it will on time.
It really fits the bill and is doubly appropriate since it allows both figs and pecans to be the stars.
Here’s some food for thought from Rabbi Silverman on the symbolic energy of tree fruits and nuts that are hard on the outside and soft on the inside like the pecans in these Pecan Fig Biscotti:
“The hard shell symbolizes the protection that the earth gives us and reminds us to nourish the strength and healing power of our own bodies.”
Here’s what she says about figs: Fruits that are soft throughout and completely edible, such as figs, grapes, and raisins, “symbolize God’s omnipresence and our own inextricable ties with the earth.”
Ready celebrate? Before you bake up a batch of these easy Biscotti, take a walk around your yard or neighborhood park. Seek out the early signs of spring. I promise, they are there.
I tore this recipe out of an Australian cooking magazine while traveling through the country 5 years ago. These have become a staple in my household. They are simple, but tasty and beautiful. I serve them on their own, or alongside sorbet.
This is my idea of the perfect biscotti, no frills.
Kim Kushner, author THE MODERN MENU
- 3 eggs
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 11/4 cups flour
- 3/4 cup pecans
- 1/2 cup mission figlets, stemmed (I use Blue Ribbon Orchard brand)
- Preheat oven 350. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper. Using an electric mixture, whisk together the eggs and sugar for 4 minutes. Fold in the flour, pecans and figlets. Don't overmix.
- Pour the mixture into your prepared loaf pan. Bring the sides of the parchment paper together and fold over to tighten, so the loaf takes on a more rounded shape. Bake for 45 minutes. Cool completely, and wrap in tinfoil and refrigerate overnight.
- Preheat oven 300. Using a very sharp knife, cut the log in to slices, as thin as possible. Place slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake about 20 minutes until golden!