A Food-Lover's Guide to Sukkot
Sukkot is the Jewish calendar’s eat local poster child. The weeklong holiday, which this year begins the evening of September 18, is a harvest pilgrimage that celebrates the bounty that follows a season of growth. Historically, it also commemorates the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert after their exodus from slavery in ancient Egypt.
The major physical symbol of the holiday is a hut called a sukkah. Right after Yom Kippur ends, Jews begin building these temporary dwellings, in which they will eat and sometimes even sleep (weather permitting!) during the holiday. Sukkot is also easy to enjoy from a food lover’s perspective. Here is a guide to its major food symbols.
There are many laws that dictate how to construct a proper sukkah. One of my favorites is that the top must be covered with natural materials like tree branches or bamboo, and be woven loosely enough that you can see the sky through them. Talk about dining al fresco!
In addition to covering the sukkah with natural materials, many people weave harvest-related fruits and vegetables into their sukkah decorations. Some string up gourds or hang apples from the rafters (though in my experience, those sweet, sticky apples tend to attract a lot of bees). Others lay bundles of dried corn stalks at the entrance, or make vases out of hollowed out gourds or pumpkins.
Lulav and Etrog
On Sukkot, Jews have the custom of waving a bundle of four different natural species: fronds from the myrtle, date, and willow trees, along with a yellow etrog (the citron fruit). Waving the four species symbolizes Jews’ service to God. They also look beautiful and, in the case of the etrog, smell delicious, adding a bit of natural beauty to the holiday. After Sukkot ends, some people use their etrogs to make marmalade, candied etrog peel, or etrog-infused liqueur.
Sometimes referred to as the Jewish equivalent of Thanksgiving, Sukkot foods are all about the autumn harvest. In America, Sukkot tables are filled with dishes made from apples, pears, sweet potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables that are readily available this time of year. Squash soups, hearty stews and one-pot casseroles that are easy to transport between the kitchen and the al fresco table are also common.
Because the holiday falls so close to Rosh Hashanah, there is a lot of overlap between dishes served. The honey-sweetened root vegetable and dried fruit stew, tzimmes, for example, is commonly eaten for both holidays.
One traditional way Jews symbolically honor the overflowing abundance of the harvest season on Sukkot is to serve stuffed foods. Cabbage, grape leaves, zucchini, squash, and peppers stuffed with rice, meat and herbs are common. Some families also prepare strudel, a Hungarian dish that rolls a sweet or savory filling inside a thin layer of dough.
Graham Cracker Sukkah
While not a traditional holiday practice, Tori Avey of The Shiksa in the Kitchen blog shared a cute, family friendly art project: making graham cracker sukkahs. Modeled after gingerbread houses, they use graham crackers, royal icing, pretzels, nuts, cinnamon sticks, and other edible decorations to craft miniature replicas of the real thing.
What are your Sukkot food traditions?