Thursday, 17 October 2013

Breaking the Fast: Yom Kippur

While many British families get together around Christmas time, for English Jews (and indeed Jews everywhere) one of the most important times of year is the autumn, when the so-called High Holy Days occur. A raft of festivals fall over the course of September and October and with Jewish culture revolving very much around the kitchen, each has its own special foodstuffs. For example, apple and honey cake are very traditional fare for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish new year), the first festival of the season.

One of many salads

Arguably the most important festival of them all though is Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), where Jewish communities gather at synagogue to repent for the sins committed by the community as a whole. The day is spent at prayer and one of the key prohibitions of the day is one against food and drink. For twenty-five hours, no food or water is allowed to pass one's lips.

Understandably then, the meal to break the fast on the evening the festival ends is a big occasion to celebrate. Typically Jews gather with family and friends to break the fast together, and the collective noshing at the end of the festival is an important part of the day, though it plays no significant religious role.

P's special coleslaw

A's family is no exception to the tradition of breaking the fast with others. P and J invited cousins and family friends who live in the area to eat at their home in North London.  P didn't fast, but she was keenly aware of how hungry the guests were and with that in mind, P laid on a fabulous spread.

The kitchen was piled high with old Ashkenazi favourites: challah (ceremonial white bread for the sabbath), smoked salmon, fresh salmon, chopped fried gefilte fish balls, pickled gherkins (one of A's particular favourites), rollmop herrings and egg and onion (a form of egg mayonnaise with fried onion made to P's special recipe) all featured. These are a regular feature of the central European Jewish table and were probably on many a North London menu that night. None of this food can exactly be called calorie free, but after a very long day without nourishment, all were most welcome.

Fresh Salmon

There were also a number of less traditional foods: P had produced a celeriac coleslaw, and potato salad and tomato and mozzarella salad, all of which were delicious and whose vibrant colours lit up the table. For dessert, P also surpassed herself. She made her own chocolate and banana bread and a traditional honey cake. While the latter is traditionally eaten 10 days earlier at new year, it's common to eat it throughout the Days of Awe (the period between new year and Yom Kippur) and these too went down a treat.

Chopped Fried

All of the above provided the foundations of a raucus evening with people eating, drinking, joking and telling stories. Though the affair was very light on alcohol, by the end the party was very much in full swing and all left satisfied and full of cheer. While the Yom Kippur fast can't be said to be a pleasant experience in itself, the evening meal is always hotly anticipated. When the food is a plentiful and delicious as P's, it's little wonder it's such an occasion.

Challah, rollmops and egg and onion

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