Hamantaschen are classic Purim cookies. Tradition says, large ones represent Haman’s hat; small ones represent his ear or his pocket, literally translating to “Haman’s pocket.” Another story tells us that the three corners represent Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the founding fathers of Judiasm.
Blah. Blah. Blah.
If you ask me, I will tell you that hamantaschen represent the thing that really saved the Jews from destruction, and that my friends is this–Queen Esther’s, um, er, how to put this delicately, please tell me you know what I am going to say.
My very smart husband has cautioned me against using any overly-specific words in this blog, although I want to. If I write the word, my name will be forever linked to it, thanks to Google algorithms. My heart is pounding as I type this—I have waited years in which to come out with this and go public with such a shocking statement.
Hopefully by now you have figured out that I am referring to Queen Esther’s special pocket and not Haman’s.
The day I realized this, was the day my life as a Jewish girl ended and my time as a Jewish woman began. Stories are told to us as children are glossed-over versions of the real thing, packaged prettily to keep us innocent, and this is a good thing. Sometimes, a person has to come to their own conclusions when the time is right. And then they never look at things the same way again.
I am not alone in my belief–there are feminist Jewish writings on what the hamantaschen really means at websites such as lilith.org. The more you think about it, the more you know I am right. As shock wears off, acceptance sets in.
Sure, in medieval times it was the custom to make a pastry in the shape of your enemy and then to eat it to make the enemy disappear. And yes, this is what I will swear to publicly at any of my Purim-themed cooking classes, and anyone within earshot will be amazed at this fact because it is very interesting. But this is not the only reason we eat them.
It is un-Jewish to focus on war, violence, killing when it comes to holidays. Instead, we focus on food, playful traditions, and fun-filled folklore for children. No, the story of Hanukkah is not really about the miracle of the oil. It is a story about war and oppression, and one has to wait until adulthood to realize that the atrocities that go with any war also happened there. Same with the story of Purim—there are secrets within secrets as the plot unravels, some not to be revealed until we are ready to hear them.
The joke goes, “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.” Does this sound like a reason to make pastry in the shape of a triangle hat—he wasn’t a Colonial American, or a pirate, and not a wizard either. Pointed ears? Come on, Spock, Vampires, Elves of the Woodland Realm, yes, but a person working for the King of Persia, nope, don’t think so.
Try this recipe, my favorite, and as you are making your 10th hamantashen and filling it with poppy seeds or raspberry jam, you will start to have a moment of enlightenment. And by the time your 40th is done, you too will know my words ring true.
Here is to Queen Esther, who did what any good queen would do to save her people. The greatest power she had saved us all, and to celebrate, we eat it.
I completely understand if you can’t bear to look me in the eye after reading this one. Don’t worry, you’ll come around. So have that celebratory Purim drink, and be happy for goodness sakes, it’s Purim!
Queen Esther’s Hamantaschen
· 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
· 1 cup margarine or unsalted butter, very soft
· 4 large eggs
· 1 tablespoon juice and all of the zest of one orange
· 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
· 4 cups unbleached flour
· 2 teaspoons baking powder
· Pinch of salt
· Filling suggestions: seedless blackberry or raspberry jam, lemon curd, strawberry, apricot or blueberry preserves, Israeli chocolate spread or Nutella, pie filling, pastry filling, any flavor you’d like, even poppy seed or prune if you are a traditionalist, which I am not.
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper and set aside.
2. Place sugar and butter in a large bowl and cream together with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each one is added. Add vanilla extract, orange juice and zest, mixing well. Add flour, baking powder and salt, and mix until a soft dough forms and all ingredients are incorporated, making the softest, most beautiful dough you have even seen.
3. On a floured board, using a rolling pin, roll out a portion of the dough to approximately ¼ inch thick. If dough is too soft or too sticky sprinkle a little extra flour on the board and on the rolling pin. With a three-inch cookie cutter, cut out circles. Place a teaspoon of filling in center of each circle.
5. To shape, fold up the left and right sides and pinch it together into a corner. Fold up the third side and pinch the last two corners to make a complete triangle.
6. Place on cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes. Let cool before eating if you can.