On food, fasting & feasting

Cassie of Sydney

Jews love to eat! But what human being on the planet does not like eating scrumptious and delicious food? Food and feasting are sensual human pleasures and pastimes. Food does not just fuel our bodies, it also fuels and stimulates our taste buds, our minds and our souls. However, some cultures and some religions elevate the role of food to higher levels. In Judaism the role of food is not just about nourishing the body, it is also about nourishing the soul. Jewish festivals, and the foods we eat on those festivals, intricately weave and bind our bodies to the spiritual and to the historical. When you eat Jewish food you embark on a journey into Jewish history, as you bite into Jewish food you taste Jewish history, the tears, the triumphs, the joys and the heartbreaks. It’s a four thousand year food journey, and on that journey you taste Babylon, Egypt, Syria, Persia, Arabia, North Africa, Spain, Poland, France and Russia. When we eat matza at Passover we are reminded of the flight of the Israelites from Egypt, when we eat the bitter herbs on the Passover Seder Plate we are reminded of our tears and misery as slaves in Egypt, when we eat cheesecake at Shavuot we are reminded of how and when we received the Torah at Mount Sinai, when we eat potato latkas and donuts at Hannukah we are reminded of the Maccabean victories over the forces of Antiochus, and the oil that is used in the cooking of the latkes and the donuts evokes the miraculous oil in the Temple, which was only supposed to burn for one day and yet miraculously burned for eight days until new consecrated oil was found. Jewish life is infused with food rituals. Every Sabbath we sanctify our meals by blessing the wine and special braided bread, a bread called ‘challah’ (which is bloody delicious). Even baking challah has its own special ritual. After the dough is prepared, and just before the dough is placed in the oven, a small piece is put aside, a blessing is said, and the separated piece of dough is wrapped in foil and placed in an oven to burn before the loaf is put in. This reminds the baker of the sacrifice in the Temple.

There are many other Jewish holidays rich with symbolic food. We have just had Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah). The tradition on Rosh Hashanah is to eat sweet food, so that we may have a sweet New Year!  Most Rosh Hashanah dishes contain copious amounts of honey, dates or prunes, and these dishes are reserved solely for cooking and eating on Rosh Hashanah. They include some personal favourites, dishes such as kreplach (Jewish ravioli), tzimmes (carrots cooked in honey) and Lekach (honey cake). However, all that sweetness can send you round the bend, and by the end of the holiday you are yearning for a bowl of plain chicken soup!

Ten days after Rosh Hashanah is Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism, the Day of Atonement.  For twenty-five hours we Jews fast, and when I say ‘fasting’ I mean no food and no fluid for that period. It is an arduous fast however you feel wonderful afterwards, spiritual, elevated, and it ties you more closely to the community. The traditional way to end the fast is with a slice of honey cake and a cup of tea. This is how I always end my fast. Growing up I did not much care for honey cake, but I like it now and I look forward to eating it every Rosh Hashanah. 

Here is my Lekach recipe, a very traditional Ashkenazi honey cake. 

200g plain flour; 150g caster sugar

1 teaspoon of cinnamon; 1 teaspoon of mixed spice; ½ teaspoon of ginger

250g clear honey; 100ml vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda dissolved in 100ml hot instant coffee

Mix together the flour, sugar and spices, make a well in centre and add the honey, eggs and oil.  Beat well.  Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in hot instant coffee, beat this into mixture until smooth (please make sure this part is done properly, there is nothing worse than tasting bicarbonate of soda that has not been mixed through).  Pour mixture into a greased 20cm springform round tin, lined with greaseproof paper (you can also use a loaf tin), and then bake for approximately 45 min until firm to the touch. Ovens now vary, particularly now with contemporary fan-forced ovens that are faster. I have a fan-force oven and I would check the cake after about 35 minutes. Anyway, as those who cook here would know, you can usually smell when something is ready. Take the cake out of the oven, check by inserting a cake tester, if it comes out clean, and if the cake springs back after lightly touching it, it’s cooked. Cool the cake and once the cake is cold, wrap it tightly in foil and leave it in the foil in a cool place for at least two or three days (I am not a fan of storing cakes in the fridge). All honey cakes improve with keeping. A piece of honey cake is just lovely with a nice cup of tea or coffee. Let me end by evoking the voices of millions of Jewish mothers though the ages, eat, eat, and enjoy!

22 responses to “On food, fasting & feasting”

  1. Gabor Avatar

    Anyway, as those who cook here would know, you can usually smell when something is ready.

    Truer words in this subject were never spoke, same as checking how the dough is ready.
    Temperature, humidity etc make a huge difference in timing.

  2. Tintarella di Luna Avatar
    Tintarella di Luna

    Thank you Cassie for taking the time to take us on this culinary/spiritual journey into Jewish religious history via the culinary aspect of Jewish culture.

    As a Catholic raised in the Veneto culture we also have food that is tied to religious festivals – in the Veneto we have polenta and baccala at Easter and mum only ever made it at Easter – the baccala is a carry-over from the fasting in Lent and the fish is also symbol of Christ.

    The Southern Italians have quite beautiful things they make and bake particularly at Easter and Christmas, the Greeks too, throughout Europe there are religious symbols baked into the culture, sadly to many don’t realise what the symbols mean, but things will turn when the material, including the food, doesn’t fill the gapin unsatisfied hole in the soul

  3. Crossie Avatar

    Anyway, as those who cook here would know, you can usually smell when something is ready.

    I know that garlic bread is ready when it starts to waft that aroma through the kitchen.

  4. GreyRanga Avatar

    Thankyou Cassie. Food is just not food. I don’t do sweets. Like them but don’t know when to stop. Easier not to start.

  5. Chris Avatar

    Thanks Cassie!
    We goyim get lots of cultural references to Jewish food, and may only meet the real thing a few times in our life.

  6. Cassie of Sydney Avatar
    Cassie of Sydney

    This morning in the Oz, Kenny is comparing the Voice to the America’s Cup.

    LOL. I’m almost beginning to pity him.

  7. Cassie of Sydney Avatar
    Cassie of Sydney

    Oops, wrong Fred.

  8. MatrixTransform Avatar

    Anyway, as those who cook here would know, you can usually smell when something is ready

    same way that you know what wants to be eaten when you open the fridge or pantry

  9. Delta A Avatar
    Delta A

    Great post, Cassie.

  10. Megan Avatar

    Thanks Cassie. My best friend at high school introduced me to the wonder of Jewish via the magic kitchen of her gorgeously glamorous mother. Extraordinary and previously unknown tastes and flavours opened up to a working class kid whose only diet until then was good old English bland and boring.

    Honey cake….mmmm.

  11. Megan Avatar

    Jewish FOOD. I’ve before never owned a phone so utterly dedicated to screwing up my every missive. Silently and unnoticed.

  12. Rabz Avatar

    Thanks Cass, great piece.

    I’ve always enjoyed your cakes.

  13. Katzenjammer Avatar

    Why are some foods kosher? An interesting analysis from Azure magazine.
    Locusts, Giraffes, and the Meaning of Kashrut

  14. Nelson_Kidd-Players Avatar

    Most Rosh Hashanah dishes contain copious amounts of honey, dates or prunes, and these dishes are reserved solely for cooking and eating on Rosh Hashanah.

    Hot cross buns are now apparently available year-round. I remember when the grocers used to be patient and at least wait until Boxing Day.

    I guess the truth is people just are more likely to buy fruit buns when they see the cross on top.

  15. Annie Avatar

    I wonder how many who buy hot cross buns even know the symbolism of the cross these days?
    Enjoyable article Cassie and the food sounds wonderful. Unfortunately I have to avoid sugary and carbohydrate-heavy foods these days. Such is life!
    When we lived in the city we were sometimes entertained by Jewish friends (and vice versa)…they were good times.

  16. Chris Avatar

    Very interesting article Katzenjammer.

  17. calli Avatar

    Thanks for the recipe, Cassie.

    Got a foolproof one for knishes? I know an addict. 😀

  18. Kneel Avatar

    Please watch “No Farmers No Food” documentary:


    This shows the elites global war on farmers and food production, and how they are legislating us to a possible global famine purely to keep their facist “public/private partnership” agenda on track, as well as how they will force you to eat the bugs.
    Yes, even as they warn us of a global food crisis, they continue to shut down farms and farmers in order to “save the planet”.

  19. Viva Avatar

    The one Hebrew setence my Israeli husband taught me:

    Ani rotza uga gvina

    I want some cheesecake

    Oh and Balagan

    Meaning a total stuff up!

  20. jupes Avatar

    Jews love to eat!

    But not on Friday night! My darling wife and I flew into Tel Aviv early on a Friday night a few years ago. Checked into the hotel and asked for room service. It was closed! No honey cake for us. Won’t be making that mistake again!

  21. WolfmanOz Avatar

    Well this is the 13th attempt to post here . . .

    Lovely post Cassie. I do most of the cooking at home (ie dinners) so I’ll try out this delicious sounding recipe for dessert.

  22. WolfmanOz Avatar

    Ye Gods the comment got through !

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