Nostalgic Taste: Natural sweets
Not long time ago, instead of dried fruit bonanza we have today, celebrators and sweets relied plainly on fruit and nuts, free of white sugar. In that spirit, here are four natural recipes for good old-fashioned sweets
It seems as though every year, our holidays get sweeter and sweeter. The old humble sufganiyah filled with jam has evolved into an extravaganza of fillings and toppings; Hamantaschen boast a variety of fillings that would put any poppy seed fan to shame; and as Tu Bishvat Holiday is upon us, we can expect the usual deluge of heavily processed dried fruit that are simply bursting with sugar and other unwanted additives.
But things were different back in the day, so they say. When my mother speaks of her childhood in Israel in the 1930s, she talks of high days and holidays full of festive sweets and celebratory confections that were all free of white sugar – the ingredient wasn’t commonly available back then. Back in her schoolgirl years, the fields of Melabes – Petah Tikva, as it is known today – were used for growing sugar cane. Every day after school, she and her friends would run along the train tracks outside the old packing house and collect the trail of canes that fell off while the crops were being loaded onto the train car. The canes were wrapped in purple, hand-weaved cones. Peeling them off was no simple task – but it sure had its sweet reward.
Instead of dried fruit bonanza we have today, celebrators relied plainly on fruit and nuts: figs, dates, carob, almonds, and other local and imported produce were the raw ingredients used in preparing the holiday feast, and no white sugar was added.
Citrus peel, for example, was carefully peeled with a sharp knife (no peeler, of course) to form one long strip, which was then dried in the sun for a couple of weeks. The dried peel was cooked in water, orange juice, and lemon juice and spiced with clove and lemon zest. Those who got their hands on blood oranges were able to enjoy an even bigger treat, as the crimson juices soaked into the translucent citrus peels and gave them an alluring tint.
Fruit leather is a kind of fruit-based 'dough' that is rolled out and dried. Traditionally, dates, prunes, or apricots were put through a meat grinder, mixed with spices, rolled out to a fine sheet, and left to dry in the sun.
- Start with 1½ cups of coarsely ground dried apricots.
- Add 2 tbsp. fruit tea.
- Place the mixture on a sheet of parchment paper.
- Fold the paper in half and, using a rolling pin, roll out the dough until it is very thin.
Turkish Delight ("Rahat Lokum")
This time-honored 'gummi candy' was made using either fruit juice or a concentrated tea of sage and other local herbs. Pine resin was used as a thickening agent, which has since been replaced by corn starch and gelatin. The resin was stored in glass vials and added to the juice or tea. The concoction was then boiled in a demitasse.
- Mix 1 packet of gelatin in warm water. Let sit for 20 minutes.
- Add gelatin to 1 cup orange/clementine/blood orange juice or fruit tea.
- Cook in a small pot for 5 minutes. Do not let boil.
- Pour into a decorative candy mold.
- Chill until set.
* For richer flavor and texture, sprinkle some nuts or raisins into your mold.
Decorative candy molds, as it so happens, were quite common back then, though they were made from metal rather than silicone. Villagers would visit the town farrier and commission special tins for cakes, bakes, and candy.
- Measure 3 cups rolled oats and place in a large bowl.
- Mix ½ cup boiling water with 1 tbsp. honey.
- Add ½ cup orange juice to the boiling water.
- Pour onto a sheet of parchment paper and flatten the mixture using a rolling pin.
- Bake for 15 minutes at 180°C.
* If you like, add some raisins or chopped nuts into the oatmeal mix.
- Peel oranges carefully to make one continuous strip.
- Boil the peels in orange juice/fruit tea.
- For each strip of peel (1 orange), use ½ cup liquid.
* Add some honey or date syrup for extra sweetness.
Enjoy your sweet journey into the past and bon appétit!
Photos by: Eitan Vaxman