You may not think of Jewish cooking as trendsetting, but truth is it has been focused on seasonal recipes sporting local ingredients since long before farmers markets became the darling of the foodie scene. And the Jewish New Year meal, served at Rosh Hashana, is a perfect example of this unintended hipness.
While the foods of this holiday are most often acknowledged for their emblematic value — think apples and honey to represent a sweet year to come — they also are intentionally seasonal for both the symbolic and practical reasons of wanting to celebrate the hope of new beginnings by using what you have on hand in late summer and early fall.
So Rosh Hashana turns out to be the perfect opportunity to serve a local, in-season meal while fully embracing the spirit of the holiday.
Traditionally, foods are chosen that are both sweet and round. Round foods represent the circle of life that continues with the new year, says Leah Koenig, a Brooklyn, New York, resident and author of "The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook."
Jewish cooks wrap that symbolism around foods that are available to them during the autumn harvest season, such as squash, beets and apples, she said.
Certain foods, such as sour and bitter ingredients like vinegars or even certain kinds of nuts, are avoided so as not to let these harsh flavors characterize the coming year.
Laura Frankel, author of various cookbooks including "Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes," is taking a local, seasonal holiday meal even further. She is holding a "Rosh Hashana Boot Camp" cooking class in Chicago at Spertus, a Jewish culture and learning center, where she is the executive chef.
"I just want to get people out of the rut of making the standard brisket and honey cake for the holidays," she says.
"There's so much available at this time of year that you can tie in with the symbolism of Rosh Hashana," says Frankel, who uses the arrival of pomegranates in the market to tell her when she needs to start planning her menus for the holidays.
This year Frankel is doing some culinary riffing with local Concord grapes. When Jews came to this country, they needed to make ceremonial wine, so they started to use Concord grapes, an exclusively American variety. She points out that they would harvest the grapes in the fall to make wine that would be ready for Passover in the spring.
Instead, she takes the fresh grapes, which she gets from local farms, and infuses them into her harvest-themed Rosh Hashana menus.
"They're seedy, so people tend not to eat them as a table grape, but they have an incredibly delicious, musty flavor that's great to cook with."
She'll be showing boot camp attendees how to make chicken and turkey with a Concord grape and honey glaze, a beautiful purple sorbet infused with honey and lemon zest and a festive spritzer made by blending a sparkling white wine with Concord grapes muddled with fresh mint and lemon zest (recipes available on Cheflauraskosher.com).