Pomegranates for Rosh Hashanah Read More
Shanah Tovah! Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins this Wednesday, September 20, at sundown. The holiday ushers in the period of repentance, which includes the eight days before Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. With these High Holy Days come fall, family gatherings, and holiday recipes.
The pomegranate, a “new fruit” (fruits that have not been eaten in a long time), are typically eaten on Rosh Hashanah. Pomegranates are also (apocryphally) said to have exactly 613 seeds, connecting it to the 613 commandments of the Torah.
Pomegranate seeds are divisive: I personally think they are delicious, but know many who find them completely inedible. They are also difficult to get out of the pomegranate. The “best way to seed a pomegranate” is hotly contested, spawning countless YouTube videos and online tutorials. My personal favorite way: just cut it open and see what happens.
On the occasion of Rosh Hashanah, we brought together works of art in the Jewish Museum collection exploring the beauty and symbolism of pomegranates, with pomegranate recipes, to inspire a fruitful new year.
A cut-open pomegranate is a ubiquitous image during Rosh Hashanah, but in Israeli painter Reuven Rubin’s still life from 1942, the fruit takes on new beauty. Pomegranates were cultivated in the Mediterranean region for millennia and listed as one of the “seven species” in the Torah — the varieties of agriculture said to be special to ancient Israel. In this painting, Rubin emphasizes the pomegranate’s bold red colors open against a contrasting blue plate, showing the complicated inside of a fruit that contains multitudes.
Contemporary artist Ori Gersht’s painterly video Pomegranate is based on a still life by 16th century Spanish artist Juan Sanchez Cotan. The video, which features a pomegranate hanging from a string, a melon, and a cabbage (also symbolic during Rosh Hashanah), turns this quiet depiction into a scene of violence as a bullet slices through the fruit in slow motion—the pomegranate explodes, spraying blood-red seeds and flesh in the air.
Pomegranates contain a strong flavor and are a distinctive fruit, capable of completely taking over any dish they are added to. A subtle dessert is transformed entirely, even destroyed by an outside force, by the addition of pomegranate juice or seeds. This destruction and breaking-down of flavor is a positive, and brings in the chance for something entirely new.
Malabi is a subtle pudding (almost a panna cotta) originating in the Middle East, and a Sephardic dessert traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah. Adding pomegranate disrupts the flavors, adds tang, and a crunch. Malabi is smooth and simple to make — a light and fresh start to a new year holiday dinner.
4 cups milk
½ cup corn starch
⅓ cup sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ cup pomegranate seeds
¼ cup pomegranate syrup
- Stir ½ cup of milk in a bowl with corn starch and vanilla until the powders are fully dissolved.
- In a pot you are okay with potentially getting messy, stir remaining milk and sugar together on a stove set to medium-low. Once water begins to boil, continue stirring continuously for 8 minutes.
- Immediately remove from heat and pour into small bowls.
- Wait until pudding reaches room temperature, then cover and put in the fridge for at least a few hours.
- Use a knife to cut around the sides of the pudding and slightly lift the bottom. Turn over each pudding cup (or keep in the bowl, your choice!)
- Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and drizzle with pomegranate syrup.
This ancient burial plaque in the Jewish Museum collection emphasizes the long history pomegranates have contained a religious significance in Jewish culture. The plaque, originating in 3–4th century C.E. Rome, features symbols that represent offerings brought to the Temple: the pomegranate for first fruits and the ram for animal sacrifice.
Along with the difficult work of repentance and t’shuvah, Rosh Hashanah ushers in a sweet new year and family celebration. The traditional food of apples and honey symbolizes the sweetness inherent in the holiday, summarized in the Jewish saying, “To a good and sweet new year.”
Apples and honey are a traditional Rosh Hashanah snack, eaten in homes and synagogues through the holiday season. This fig, honey, and pomegranate spread spread combines this tradition with other significant foods of the holiday. It works wonderfully as a sweet fall snack spread on toast, apples, or when combined with cheese.
10 ounces of figs
1.5 cups water
¼ cup honey
¼ cup pomegranate seeds
- Cut stems off figs and quarter each. Bring to a boil on the stove with the 1.5 cups of water, then reduce to a simmer and cover for 20 minutes.
- Once cooled, pour fig mixture into food processor or blender. Blend with honey and pomegranate seeds until smooth. If you like a more subtle pomegranate flavor, mix in whole seeds after instead of pulverizing in.
The pomegranate is depicted as an important symbol across the Jewish holiday calendar, as seen in this Hanukkah Lamp from the early 1920s. This lamp, created by artist Ze’ev Raban in Israel, combines elements of Israel’s National Art School and European Art Deco style. Symbolic images such as date palms, gazelles, and, of course, pomegranates, emphasize the artist’s connection to the land. This combination of styles and imagery create a dense feast of Jewish symbols, from foods for fruitfulness to Israel to the high priests.
Cheesecake is traditionally eaten on the Jewish holiday Shavuot. This combination chocolate and pomegranate cheesecake is sweet, dense, tangy, and a perfect compliment to a dairy meal for your holiday dinner. The tang of the pomegranate seeds cuts the heaviness of the cheesecake, and the chocolate cuts the tang of the plain cheesecake.
24 oz cream cheese at room temperature
1⅓ cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons vanilla
¾ cup heavy cream
3 ounces bittersweet baking chocolate, melted
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
⅓ cup pomegranate seeds
¼ cup pomegranate syrup, for serving
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and put tin foil around the base of a greased springform pan.
- Put 8oz cream cheese and ⅓ cup of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, add all corn starch. Mix until creamy, about 4 minutes
- Add in the rest of the cream cheese and mix, then add in remaining sugar and mix
- Mix in eggs and vanilla until fully incorporated
- Slowly mix in heavy cream until completely mixed
- Spoon ⅓ batter into a separate bowl, mix in cocoa powder and baking chocolate. If the dough is too dry, add in another two tablespoons of heavy cream.
- Pour chocolate dough into springform pan, use a spatula to spread evenly across the bottom. Sprinkle pomegranate seeds across the top. Pour on plain batter, use spatula to spread evenly. Sprinkle more pomegranate seeds across the top.
- Put 1–2 inches of water in a large roasting pan (creating a water bath) and place springform pan inside. Place entire pan in the oven and bake for 70 minutes. The cheesecake should be set, except the very center, and slightly puffed up.
- Take cheesecake out and let sit until it reaches room temperature. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Take out of the fridge, drizzle over pomegranate syrup, and enjoy!
L’Shanah Tovah, to a Happy New Year!
— Lisa Yelsey, Guest Contributor