Candied apples are the traditional sweet handed out to children on Simchat Torah (the holiday that celebrates the end of Sukkot, and the beginning of re-reading the Torah anew). For grown-ups, it's booze.
Indeed, the partying around Simchat Torah is expected to be so "festive" that old Rabbinic sources warn rabbis to bless the wine early, so shul-goers won't be completely plastered by the end of services. This is my kind of holiday.
But is there a grown-up alternative to the caramel apples -- something that would pair nicely, say, with a sweet dessert wine, fitting for the season? As subscribers know, I'm always on the look out for new twists on traditional habits, especially when it comes to food. I've recently discovered a compadre in this mission: Amelia Saltsman, whose latest cookbook, The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen, is a gorgeous compendium of traditional Jewish recipes turned on their heads. Saltsman, who is the daughter of a Romanian mother and Iraqi father, takes a fresh, sophisticated view of such classics as chopped liver and tzimmes (she mixes the former, for example, with duck livers and serves on rustic bread with a parsley and celery salad on the side; the latter she has leaned down -- discarding ingredients such as meat, sugar and flour -- to a simple roasted version with carrot and sweet potatoes). There are exotic surprises thrown in here too, such as a Tunisian Lemon Rind Salad, Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Walnuts, Pomegranate Molasses and Shanklish, and a Syrian Lemon Chicken Fricassee.
My favorite aspect of the book, however, is that the recipes are arranged seasonally. I wish all cookbooks were organized this way. Over the years I've become a habituee of farmer's markets and an increased fanatic about farm-to-table ingredients -- not so much out of ideological conviction but simply because the food just tastes better. A local tomato in August is a completely different creature from its croquet-ball, flavorless Dutch cousin in January. My family now looks forward to the first peas and asparagus of spring, or the first summer strawberries, like pre-Industrial farmworkers -- droolingly anticipating the spoils of the ripening harvest.
Saltsman's is a book one can spend a delicious year cooking through, while enjoying her original menus for each Jewish holiday. For Simchat Torah, I love her recipe for Roasted Autumn Fruit, which Saltsman describes as "my go-to autumn dessert, perfect for all this season's holidays... Roasting fall fruit brings out the spicy notes we associate with desserts this time of year. And it's very forgiving: just about any combination of seasonal fruit will do, and no special techniques, precise measuring, or timing is required."
Roasted Autumn Fruit. Photo by Staci Valentine.
Hard to find a more perfect dessert for this time of year -- one that is both sweet AND forgiving! You can find the recipe here. For grown-ups, I'd suggest serving it with a Hungarian Tokay, a delicately sweet wine traditionally made by Jews.