Today was hamentaschen day.
Hamantaschen, for the uninitiated, is a triangular-shaped pastry filled with stuff, and it’s eaten around this time of year in celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim. Which, for the uninitiated, is a celebration (among way too many) of how someone tried to get rid of Jews and failed.
But in all honesty? That’s not what I commemorate.
For me, it goes back to 1994. I was a student at the University of Illinois when I got a phone call from my best friend from elementary school. Her father, after a brutal fight with cancer, had died.
But before we can get into that, we have to go back to 1984, when she and I were pretty much each other’s only friend in junior high. One of the ways we’d pass the time on our many sleepovers was to bake cookies. Sometimes we’d use a recipe. Sometimes we wouldn’t. Sometimes our efforts would be edible. Sometimes they’d be downright awful. Always we ate them.
So on that February day in ’94, I returned to St. Louis to be with my friend. I wanted to help her just…escape, if only for a little while. Those of you who have been around family in a time of intense grief know that things are just that – intense.
The two of us retreated to my place to make hamentaschen. I don’t remember exactly what we talked about. I don’t remember much. But I do remember that was important time for the two of us.
So now, each and every year, when the holiday falls, I once again dig out the recipe, yellowed and food-stained, scrawled in my mother’s handwriting, and I get baking.
Baking hamentaschen isn’t just a simple mix-it-up-and-throw-it-in-the-oven enterprise. You’ve got to make the dough and chill it before you can handle it.
And then there’s the matter of filling. Some folks like to just use canned and jarred fillings – and I kind of do, using whatever fruit preserves sound good as one of my options. But I also treasure my mom’s prune filling recipe. (I know it has the word “prune” in it. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it. It’s one of the most delicious things on this planet.)
So there’s the dough to make. The filling to prepare. And then each round of dough has to be rolled and cut out. Each dollop of filling has to be centered on the dough. Each circle has to be folded into the triangle, pressed down and sealed with egg whites. Then, and only then, can it be baked.
There’s something so very meditative about making hamentaschen, about getting into the rhythm of the filling and the baking, that sends me into a thoughtful mood. I think about what’s going on at school, how my kids are doing, all kinds of odd things.
But I always think about my friend’s dad. I think about what a warm and caring soul he was. How he treated me like one of his own kids. How he was always up for anything. How he was one of the funniest people I knew. How very much he loved his family. How very much my friend loved HIM.
It makes those hamentaschen even sweeter.