While there are more than 25 laws in the Mishneh Torah that govern forbidden foods, there is not a single law that provides guidance as to what foods should be served to break the Yom Kippur fast. The decision, for example, to serve a kugel over blintzes, or lox and bagels over chicken soup with kreplach, is simply a matter of tradition, both cultural and familial. If you break your fast with pizza, you haven't broken any law. These are traditions and they can vary as much from country to country as they do from family to family.
Many Ashkenazic Jews around the world share the belief that a heavy meal following a twenty-four hour fast would wreak havoc on our digestive systems. Hence, Ashkenazic Jews forego meat in favor of fruits, vegetables, fish, and dairy. By contrast, in many Sephardic homes the fast is often broken with meat-based stews and soups. Additionally, it is customary in those homes to serve couscous, tabbouleh salad, or baba ganoush.
For the Jews of Poland, it was customary to serve slices of fresh pickled herring with chopped raw onions. In Italy, Jews broke the fast with Il Bollo, a special Yom Kippur yeast bread flavored with anise and fresh lemon. Greek and Turkish Jews sipped Pepitada, a melon seed beverage made by blending the "milk" of roasted melon seeds with sugar and a dash of either rose water or orange blossom water. Iranian Jews enjoyed Paludeh Seeb, a sorbet made from fresh grated apples, sugar, and rosewater.
When Jews immigrated to America, their break fast traditions, along with other culinary traditions, came with them. Dishes such as dairy kugels (from Germany) and blintzes (from Russia) wove their way into the fabric of Jewish American cuisine. And, as I learned from talking to people in our community, versions of these foods have become standard fare on our Yom Kippur break fast menus. Indeed, these Yom Kippur food traditions have literally been passed down from generation to generation.
For example, when my mother, Ann Lenga, was a child in Poland, pickled herring was the centerpiece of her family's break fast meal. It remained the centerpiece all through my childhood along with my mother's homemade honey cake. My mother-in-law Shirlee Kahn, alav hashalom, always served a fabulously rich dairy kugel topped with crispy corn flakes. You will find all three of these foods on my break fast table.
As I discovered when I spoke to others in our community about their Yom Kippur meals, food traditions are important, regardless of whether they have been passed down through the generations or created anew for the next generation.
"When we break the fast, we always include a noodle kugel," Barbara Langsam Shuman explained. "My late, beloved mother-in-law, Marjorie Shuman, was known for her noodle kugel. Sadly, she passed away two years before I met my dear husband. Yet I feel as if I knew her because of all the stories my husband, brother-in-law, and family members have shared with me. And, one of her close friends gave me Margie's noodle kugel recipe before our marriage (at a recipe bridal shower). It's extremely caloric, of course, but worth it!"
Regardless at whose home the Shuman's are breaking the fast, Marjorie Schuman's kugel is always on the table.
Marian Walters and her late husband, Kurt, were both born in Germany. It was traditional for their families to break the fast with boiled potatoes served with a dollop of sour cream.
"We never had a heavy meal," Marian said. "Along with the potatoes we might have challah and a small slice of cake. But that was all. Of course," she added, " we always had a cup of tea."
Marian's married daughters, Evelyn Solomon and Vivian Zarkowsky, break their fasts the same way.
For Sandy and Frank Wasserman, there wasn't a lot of tradition to draw upon. So they created their own tradition of homemade applesauce and challah French toast.
"And," Sandy said, "Frank makes sure that we also have herring in wine sauce, which is the only thing he remembers having as a child."
And some of us have no family traditions at all. Take, for example, Amy Peck Abraham.
Amy's family didn't fast on Yom Kippur and, therefore, had none of these traditions. This year she has invited friends to break the fast at her home. Among the foods on her menu will be her homemade apple cake.
"The story connected to the apple cake for me is sad," she said. "But it has become a perennial in our family, the one I always make, at my house or when going to friends."
Adrienne Hirschfeld also has had to create new break fast traditions.
"Most of what I learned came from friends' recipes or cookbooks," Adrienne explained. "But even though our menu may change from year to year, it always includes my homemade Baby Food Muffins, which I've been making since the 1980's."
Then there are times when merely bending or adding to tradition can be traumatic. For example, my friend Carol Roodman who married into a large Jewish family and now sits on the board of Congregation Shaare Emeth, took the courageous step of attempting to add something totally new to the Roodman family break fast table.
"I decided one year to bring something festive and new," Carol said. "I baked fruit tarts that I learned to make from helping out at my daughter's Religious School class. Somehow my fruit tarts struck the family as odd, four-cornered Hamantaschen. I heard after I left that everyone wanted to know who made them. At first my feelings were hurt, but my husband David assured me that everyone thought they were wonderful. Since then, I try not to stray too far from the traditional family recipes."
As we all know, experiences like Carol's often become the catalysts for establishing new family traditions. I can't help but think that someday, Carol's four-cornered fruit tarts will be a feature at the Roodman family's break fast. Just imagine the raised eyebrows at the break fast meal somewhere in Russia several centuries ago when a courageous balabusta decided to add something festive and new to her family's break fast table, namely, Cheese Blintzes. The rest, of course, is history... and tradition.
To all of you, "Tsom Kal" (easy fast), the traditional Israeli wish at the start of Yom Kippur.
P.S. In my last "Passionate Palate," Sept. 1 ("Fresh takes on your Rosh Hashanah feast") I accidentally left out the contact information for the restaurants I mentioned:
• Terrene Restaurant, 33 North Sarah Street, 314-535-5100
• Local Harvest Cafe, 3148 Morgan Ford Road, 314-865-5260.
Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of three. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is currently working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amy's Aromatic Apple Cake (non-dairy)
For the Pan:
2-4 tbsp margarine
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
5 apples, peeled, cored, cut in eighths
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tbsp sugar
3 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup canola oil
1/2 cup apple juice or apple cider
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups sugar
For the Pan:
1) Grease the Bundt pan with margarine.
2) Combine the sugars and spices and then using sifter or a tea ball sprinkle, shake, turn until all surfaces are coated.
3) Chill in freezer until ready to bake.
For the Filling:
Combine all ingredients well and set aside.
For the Cake:
1) Preheat Oven to 350 degrees.
2) Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
3) Whisk eggs together well in a large bowl, then stir in oil, and then the juice and vanilla.
4) Add sugar a little at a time while whisking. Then add flour mixture the same way.
5) Pour 1/3 of the batter into the chilled Bundt pan. Layer in half the filling, 1/3 batter, 1/2 of the filling, and top with remaining 1/3 of the batter.
6) Bake on center rack for 1 hour or more. Edges should have pulled away from the pan. Check for doneness with toothpick or finger touch.
7) Let cool for 15 minutes on rack before turning out of the pan.
8) Serve when cool. Use a serrated knife to slice.
Adrienne's Baby Food Muffins
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs beaten
l/2 tsp. vanilla
l/2 cup vegetable oil
1 jar of junior size plum baby food
1 cup unsifted flour
1 tsp. baking powder
l/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tbs. unsalted butter
1 tbs. fresh lemon juice
Combine sugar, eggs, vanilla, oil, and baby food in medium bowl. Beat everything together. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend well.
Fill lightly greased muffin pans 2/3 full with batter. Bake muffins at 400 degrees for l5 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the glaze by combining all ingredients in a small bowl. Stir well and spoon over muffins while they are still hot.