What is Shavuot without dairy foods?
Shavuot is also known as the Festival of the First-fruit offerings. The First-fruits of Spring (dates, figs, grapes, pomegranates, olives, the last harvest of barley, and the first harvest of wheat) compose the seven species available in this ancient land of Israel. They comprised the First-fruit offerings made to the ancient temple during this festival. Two loaves of bread made from the finest flour were given by Jews from their farms to the priests at the temple for wave offerings. All of these offerings describe the festival that started with ancient agricultural origins associated with the sweetness of the spring bounty of Israel. Later on, the Rabbis included the revelation of Torah to the celebrations of Shavuot. With the festival meals, you can see these lovely fruits and grains incorporated into decorations in your home and in your food, including challah. (If you want to get some ideas, look up “challah shapes for Shavuot” on your internet search engine. Wow!! Idea!! What a photo-op that could be…take pictures of your creative Shavuot Challah and let’s put it on the food page on the CBA website. )
And why do we focus on dairy foods?
Dairy foods are important as well because it links with Torah in so many ways. Think of the importance of breast milk to the baby as compared to the food of the torah is to the infancy of Jewish people at Mt. Sinai. Think Song of Songs verse 4.11: “knowledge of the torah is like milk and honey under the tongue.” Think of the association of milk and Kashrut, in the Bible (Exodus 23:19; 34:26), a reference is made twice to bringing the first fruits “You shall bring the first-fruits of your land to the house of the Lord your God…”, and it is paired along with the reference to what rabbis inferred as a command to separate milk from meat “You shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk”. Eating dairy food on the Festival of the First Fruits was drawn from the associations of these ideas.
Cheesecakes: Basically the cheesecake, the one of the traditional Shavuot dairy food items, is a custard with a soft cheese (IE: curds, ricotta, quark, cream cheese) with eggs, sugar and a few flavorings and may be with or without cookie or pastry base. There are both baked, and unbaked versions you can create for Shavuot. Since curd was a basic form of milk products in hot climates, which include mediterranean and middle east areas, cheese made from it was utilized in all sorts of foods (think fried savory and sweet cheese pancakes). From one of my favorite sources Wikipedia: The ancient Greeks, by the fifth century BC (or 4000 years ago from other sources), made the earliest known rudimentary cheesecake (plakous meaning “flat mass”), consisting of patties of fresh cheese pounded smooth with flour and honey and cooked on an earthenware griddle. In late medieval Europe, cheesecake remerged in tart form with a pastry base. The first English cookbook, The Forme of Cury (c. 1390), consisting of a collection of medieval English recipes compiled by the cooks of King Richard II contained recipes for cheesecake.
Blintzes: Blintzes originated from the Ashkenazi Jews from central and eastern Europe (some sources say Poland, others say Hungary). They were probably a traditional food item from that part of the world for hundreds of years before they gained real popularity. It was about the year 1800, when blintzes first began to appear on the European culinary map. Basically, you took a soft cheese, added sugar, raisins, and wrapped it in a blintz pancake and you had… blintzes. You can relate a blintze pancake to a crepe, blini, palainki, naleniki, palatschinken or palascinta, but there are some basic differences. Crepes or blinis are also thin pancakes, but cooked on both sides before being used. It is the blintz that is fried on one side and then filled (with a sweet cheese or other stuffing) and then folded or rolled (depending on family tradition) with uncooked side out. The blintzes are then fried or baked, and topped with some very yummy toppings (sour cream, fruit compote, etc).
Want some recipes? Here are some made at CBA in years past. Blintz recipes from Beth Ami