Tomorrow we celebrate Tu B’Shevat, also known as “New Year for the Trees.” This holiday takes place on the 15th of Shevat in the Hebrew calendar (late January – early February on the Gregorian calendar). Tu B’Shevat marks the beginning of spring in Israel; it is one of four annual “new years” described in the Mishnah. It’s a time to celebrate the natural world. Gratitude is given for the fruits of the earth and everything that grows.
Traditionally, a bounty of fruits and vegetables grace the Tu B’Shevat table. In some parts of the world Jews partake in a Tu B’Sevat Seder meal, complete with prayers and food blessings. Others celebrate by taking a picnic under the trees or simply making a meal featuring all the fruits of the season. Jewish schools often hold outdoor parades; students wear all white and make baskets overflowing with fruit. In Israel, people are encouraged to plant trees and give back to the earth, which is similar to our U.S. tradition of Arbor Day.
In our home, we celebrate Tu B’Shevat by cooking a kosher vegetarian meal to celebrate the ecological aspect of the holiday. Eating a meatless meal impacts the environment in a positive way, plus it gives me more opportunities to integrate fruits, vegetables, and grains into the menu. The weekend before Tu B’Shevat, I make a trip to the farmer’s market and buy fresh, seasonal ingredients from our local farmers. It is my way of celebrating our interconnectedness and appreciating the source of our food.
Typical foods served on Tu B’Shevat include fruits, nuts, grains, and vegetables. The almond trees bloom at this time of year, so almond-laden foods often make an appearance on the holiday table. Those who partake in a Tu B’Shevat Seder will eat at least 15 different types of fruits and vegetables. Traditionally carob pods are often included in the meal; diners snack on the chocolaty fruit inside the pod. It is also customary to include the Seven Species mentioned in the Torah: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.
While thinking about my Tu B’Shevat menu this year, I started wondering if I could find a way to incorporate the Seven Species into one dish. After considering some different options, I decided to create a muffin recipe that uses all of the Seven Species. Here’s how the ingredient list broke down:
Wheat = All purpose flour
Barley = Barley flour
Grapes = Golden raisins
Figs = Dried figs
Pomegranates = Pomegranate juice
Olives = Light olive oil
Dates = Dried dates
I also used almond milk (almonds are commonly used during Tu B’Shevat) and applesauce (apples symbolize the sweetness of life and the glory of God). Walnuts were added for crunch.
It took me quite a few tries, but I finally was able to create a moist and yummy muffin from these ingredients (and a few others). They are really quite tasty, especially if you top them with melted butter (or pareve margarine). Yesterday I ate one topped with rhubarb preserves. Delish! And it’s pretty cool knowing that I’m enjoying the Seven Species referenced in Deuteronomy. These muffins were made for Tu B’Shevat, but they would also work great as part of a Sukkot or Shavuot meal; both of these holidays also feature the Seven Species. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did!
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- 3/4 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 cup dates
- 1/2 cup dried figs
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1/4 cup applesauce
- 1/4 cup pomegranate juice
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup light olive oil
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup barley flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- Nonstick cooking spray or paper muffin tin liners
Topping Ingredients (optional)
- 2 tbsp granulated or turbinado sugar
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
You will also need
- Blender or food processor, large mixing bowl, medium mixing bowl, standard muffin tin, ice cream scoop or small ladel, cooling rack
- Cover the raisins with water and bring to a boil. As soon as the water boils, turn off the heat and let the raisins sit in the water to plump for 10 minutes. Drain and pat dry with a paper towel.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. If your figs have tough stems on them, remove them and discard.
- Roughly chop dates and figs. Set aside.
- Use a blender or food processor to blend together the following ingredients until very smooth: dates, figs, almond milk, applesauce, pomegranate juice, and cinnamon.
- It will take 2 - 3 minutes to blend all ingredients to a smooth consistency, depending on the power of your blender. The end result should be similar to the texture of apple butter or smooth fruit preserves. Set mixture aside.
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, light olive oil, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla extract.
- In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, barley flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour mixture from the blender into the well.
- Add the egg mixture to the bowl.
- Fold the dry mixture into the wet ingredients until the dry ingredients are just moistened and a lumpy batter forms. Do not overmix - if you do your muffins will turn out heavy and dense.
- Fold plumped raisins and chopped walnuts into the muffin batter with a light-handed stir.
- Prep your muffin pan by spraying a small amount of nonstick cooking spray into the bottom of each muffin tin (not the sides), or use paper muffin cup liners. Divide batter equally into muffin cups, filling each cup to the top and mounding the surface slightly. I've found that it's easiest to do this using an ice cream scoop.
- If you’d like to top the muffins, mix the sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl using a fork. Sprinkle about a ½ tsp of cinnamon sugar mixture evenly across the surface of each muffin.
- Place muffins in the oven and immediately turn heat down to 375 degrees F. That extra heat blast at the beginning of the baking cycle will help to activate the baking powder and soda. Bake for 25-27 minutes until the tops of the muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let muffins cool for 10 minutes before removing from the tin and cooling on a rack. Do not let the muffins cool completely in the tin, they are quite moist and will stick to the tin if you leave them there too long. Serve warm.