#SOL20 Day 7: A Time to Bake

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.

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15 Responses to “#SOL20 Day 7: A Time to Bake”

  1. RiverBrown Says:

    This is a remarkable piece. You carried me back in time without getting lost and then grounded me again in the present with the recipe procedures. What love to bake with a grieving friend and equate the warmth of cookies with the kindness of a lost dad. Thank you.

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      Thank YOU! I appreciate your kind words.

      It’s amazing, isn’t it, how many directions this small moment can bring us?

  2. Debbie Lynn Says:

    I love your story as baking is meditative for me. And some recipes always remind me of specific events, 🙂 I love to bake and this recipe sounds delicious! Thanks for a lovely post!

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      Thank you! Yes, baking is meditative for me as well, and I’ve often reflected that it’s a creative outlet that brings quicker and more tangible gratification than writing does…

  3. jaclynfre Says:

    Thanks for sharing this sensory memory. Hamentaschen sounds incredible. Traditions are the past, present and future celebrated at once. Truly sweet.

  4. Maureen Ingram Says:

    I was introduced to the festival of Purim and the deliciousness of hamentaschen when my oldest was in preschool (many years ago! He’s 31 now!). I’ve never seen them made, never eaten “homemade” ones…though I have tried some delicious prune ones at my local deli. What a beautiful tradition you have shared. Thank you for this! P.S. you should share this post with your elementary school best friend.

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      Oh she was the very first one I shared it with!

      As for the homemade hamentaschen, if you lived near me I’d bring you some! In fact, Purim is the traditional gift-giving holiday (not hanukkah!) and people often give one another gift baskets including these goodies. You might find some of these on your doorstep :))

  5. Dana Windsor Says:

    Love this Lainie and my dad loved you. You have always been there for the lows and the highs. The cookies with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Don’t remember much from that time but your house and family were a sanctuary.

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      Love you too! And your house was my “place” as well. Even if I had to walk you FURTHER to get home =)))

  6. Anna Maria Says:

    Oh this was a beautiful Slice to read. It read like a winding road that led back home.

  7. Leigh Anne Eck Says:

    What a sweet slice and such a special memory and tribute to your friend’s father.

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      Thank you!

      …and…the people around me, the ones I bake for – they enjoy the tribute as well :))

  8. Fran Haley Says:

    So many things to celebrate … the preservation of the Jews, friendship, love, memories … as with writing, there is a spiritual element to food. And to sharing. Those photos are awesome and I find the stained recipe itself so moving. And – I actually like prunes! Always did. Beautiful job preserving so many elements of your life in this one slice.

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      YES. So much about food is spiritual, is meditative. And yes, stained, brittle, well-worn and well-loved recipes can never replace anything I’d find on the internet…

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