New Twists on Old Traditions

Purim Hamantaschen Gluten Free Elderberry Syrup Traditional Biscuit Recipe

Happy Purim to you! The sun has gone down and the festival can officially begin, but actually we have spent the afternoon frolicking in a celebration that my husband has declared is a Renegade Purim.

We held a “Purim Picnic Party” in a local park and took a huge basket of costumes, a suitcase full of instruments and rattles, and invited a bunch of kids to come and dress up and make noise with us. There are very few photos of the fun we had because we were having too much fun.

Purim New Traditions Cultural Experience Jewish Celebration Children Holiday Kids

I gather that this is a key purpose of the festival: making merry and having a great time. The other key purpose seems to be making and eating Hamantaschen, which are fruit-filled biscuits shaped to look like the ears of the villain of the Purim story.

And just as I went a bit left-of-centre with the mode of celebration, I also struggled to stick with the traditional recipes that were given to me for the biscuits. I ended up making two batches and started them off the same way; by using equal parts room-temperature butter and cream cheese, to create a lovely texture for the biscuit base.

Purim Hamantashen Gluten Free Traditional Jewish Cookie Biscuit Recipe

To one bowl I added plain flour and to the other I added dessicated coconut and LSA mix (which is made from Linseed, Soy and Almond meal). I combined them both well until I had a firm dough, which I put into the fridge for half an hour.

While the dough became stiff, I combined dates, sultanas, prunes and dried apricots with hot water on the stovetop until it was syrupy. This became the filling for my first batch of biscuits.

Purim Hamantash Gluten Free Elderberry Jam Traditional Cookie Biscuit Recipe

I decided to fill my gluten-free batch with the sticky jam that I made a few months ago with the elderberries from the tree in our backyard. I hadn’t strained the berries so it wasn’t suitable for cordial and it didn’t seem quite right for spreading on toast (it was a very simple recipe with just the berries, sugar and lemon, a bit like this).

Purim Hamantaschen Gluten Free Elderberry Jam Syrup Traditional Cookie Recipe

It turns out that it takes practice to take the step from elegant pastry rounds to excellent Hamantaschen triangles. I never really mastered it and then I ran out of time to get to our picnic. My attempts at gluten-free biscuits looked like puddles when I pulled them out of the oven, so I abandoned them on the stove stop and rushed out the door.

How incredible and wonderful, then, that two other attendees had gone to the trouble to make and bring their own, including another gluten-free version (seen at left in the picture below; the recipe sounds a bit like this one from Friendly Little Kitchen).

Mine are the ones at bottom right that are not triangles at all.

Purim New Traditions Cultural Jewish Hamantaschen Healthy Sugar Free Celebration Children Kids

We told noisy stories, held a noisy parade and played noisy games. Then nobody wanted to come home.

Purim Cultural Jewish Celebration Costume Tradition Cookie Biscuit Recipe

When I finally arrived back in the kitchen, I looked again at those gluten-free puddles and they had come good upon cooling. They were a little bit rustic, perhaps, but recognisable triangles (see the photo at the very top of this post).

And to be fair, all my Hamantaschen — of whatever shape — were actually really delicious.

So I think we were happy to be renegades with our celebration of Purim. Our festivities were a bit “unorthodox” to say the least, and our biscuits were non-traditional.

But this was a fantastic opportunity to connect with other families in our area, in a really fun way that held meaning for us.

Purim New Traditions Cultural Experience Jewish Celebration Children Many Cha Cha

Stuck at Home for Purim

We are quite hopeless at keeping up with holiday dates; my husband sent me a text this morning saying he thinks Purim started yesterday or today? Either way I was thrilled, because our car has gone off to the mechanic for a service and so the children and I must entertain ourselves at home. Purim is a joyous occasion that is all about having fun, and it immediately gave me some ideas for how we can occupy ourselves without leaving the house. 

My knowledge of Purim (as with many things Jewish) comes from American popular culture, most notably the Christopher Guest film: “For Your Consideration“. I knew it involved dress-ups and noisemakers.

This holiday was made for my children.

We began by digging through our well-appointed dress-up basket, testing bunny ears, capes and vintage jackets. But the ideas started flowing and I realised it was time to let the kids create a costume from scratch, so we set about making masks.

We hunted around for something the size of the kids’ faces and used a pot to trace circles onto cardboard. Then we used a cylindrical building block for eyes. After tracing and cutting the mask forms, we painted them in the murky, watery colours that the children gleefully mixed together. Later, I’ll punch holes in the sides and attach elastic to the masks so they can be worn.

While the paint was drying we turned our attention to noisemakers. It’s a favourite pastime around here: hitting, smacking, banging any object with another to see what noise it makes. This morning an upturned bucket was a Chinese drum, yesterday some metal stair rails made a satisfying clang when kicked by small feet.

The traditional Purim noise-maker is a gragger or grogger, which consists of a central barrel with notches, around which a sort of cartridge is spun. The cartridge contains a narrow metal or wood plank that catches and clicks on each notch as it goes around. Or as my children laughed when we discussed this, it goes “gragger gragger gragger!”.

Sadly, our graggers are broken, which is why we were analysing the inner workings together. The basic concept of the flat piece catching on a turning wheel and making a sound reminded me of an old childhood way to “pimp your ride.”

Did you ever peg a playing card to your bike and pretend you were riding a motorbike? It didn’t work very well with our tricycles, even with two pegs, but it was fun to try.

We’re starting small with our children and Jewish customs but since Purim is such a light-hearted holiday, featuring lots of fun and theatrical traditions, I can see this becoming a memorable date on our yearly calendar.

Rolling Like a Stone

Cycle Life Jewish Cemetery Garden Menorah Gate Garden Hobart

I visited a local Jewish cemetery today and I placed some stones on one of the graves: it is one of my favourite Jewish customs.

There are a variety of understood reasons for the tradition, but the purpose seems intuitive rather than rational. Pebbles and rocks are sturdy, weatherproof, solid, heavy. By placing one on your grave I am marking my respect in a tangible way, I am adding to the monument of your life, I am letting future visitors know that you have been acknowledged by me.

Cycle Life Jewish Cemetery Henrietta Moses Grave Stone Pebbles

(Henrietta Moses died at age 13 in 1853, around the time when the Jewish population was at its largest in Tasmania).

Cycle Life Henrietta Moses Tasmania Jewish Cemetery

The cemetery at Cornelian Bay is located on land that was once government farmland, and it has been used as a burial ground (on and off) since 1872. Many of Hobart’s original cemeteries became health hazards because it wasn’t possible to dig deeply enough into the rocky earth to make suitable graves.

Cycle Life Hobart Cemetery Magen David Head Stone Jewish

I gather that the old Jewish cemetery, used from 1828 to 1871, had a block of apartments built upon it but was exhumed in its entirety once the building was demolished. The human remains and some salvaged head stones have been reinterred at Cornelian Bay and a lovely garden space has been created as a memorial.

Cycle Life Jewish Cemetery Hobart

I wasn’t able to linger long over the graves today, but I did reflect upon the contribution of these long-ago people to the development and culture of the place that I now call home. There were Jewish convicts and free settlers in Tasmania, and the plaques in the cemetery dedicated to infants are a stark reminder of the harsh conditions in which these people attempted to raise families. Meanwhile, one of the plaques names 89-year-old Sarah Moses, who died in 1861; she must have been one tough cookie.

Cycle Life Jewish Cemetery Moses Infant TasmaniaCycle Life Sarah Moses Jewish Settler Tasmania Cemetery Hobart

Having been at this place and thinking about these things today, I was particularly struck when my husband received news this afternoon of a family member’s pregnancy, while another beloved relative is very near death.

The cycle of life and death is a mystical, but somehow also very ordinary, thing. All we can do is roll with it.

Cycle Life Death Jewish Cemetery Harrington Street Hobart Reinterred

(The photographs feature all the Moses graves that I could find for a writer and archaeologist on the other side of the world, Lois Elsden, who has ancestral links to early Tasmanian settlers).

A Squeezebox and a Fiddle

Bohemian Nights is a Melbourne duo featuring violinist Ernie Gruner and accordionist/singer Phil Carroll. The song titles on the self-titled CD that we’ve been enjoying hint that they play music spanning the European continent and beyond. There are tangos and tarantellas, polkas and klezmers (Jewish dance tunes). I particularly love the moodiness of this music; it can quickly descend from joyous celebration into a gloomy lament. Also, I want to learn the accordion.

Here is a sample of Bohemian Nights, dancing in a circle is optional:

Gefilte Fish Fail

Passover Pesach Moses Sea Children Story Book Illustration

The matzoh arrived yesterday morning in an express post parcel. I dug out the candlesticks and spent the afternoon collecting all the other ingredients for my first attempt at a Passover dinner. The gorgeous old book outlining the order of the table setting and service, printed in 1862 and with family signatures dated 1920 and 1940, seemed to really apply the ancestral pressure.

Was I taking on too much, given that I’d only celebrated three or four Pesachs before in my life?

Pesach Old Family Haggadah

I tried my hand at Hebrew script to create a Seder plate, and accidentally wrote the same word twice because it is so unfamiliar. In reducing the quantity of the recipes, and due to my inexperience, I made some “idiosyncratic” versions of some of the foods… And none of it was ready in time to feed to the children, so they had a quirky meal to suit the theme, which included matzoh, hommus and a juicy pickle.

Pesach Passover for Babies

After all that preparation, we sat down to begin our meal and spilled the wine all over the Seder plate. I’d neglected a key element from it anyway. My matzoh balls were hard, and my chicken broth was way too salty. The gelfilte fish simply didn’t resemble gefilte fish.*

I was beginning to feel like I’d screwed it all up.

But then my sweetheart thanked me for the effort and said he could easily read my Hebrew. There are many different thoughts about how to lay out the Seder plate, apparently, and don’t I know the saying about two Jewish people, three opinions?

He reassured me that I’m supposed to make the recipes my own. “Everyone makes it differently, and everyone likes their mum’s matzoh balls the best.”

We noted the stains all over the pages of the Haggadah, the old Passover guide book, and I relaxed knowing that even the ancestors weren’t perfect.

Pesach Passover Seder for Two

*gefilte fish doesn’t really resemble fish, I reckon… 😉