This is a guest post from Pork Memoirs, a story project about pork and identity by friend-of-the-blog and food journalist Jeffrey Yoskowitz. His project seeks to “explore the struggles and celebrations of our often complicated relationship to the ‘other white meat.'” This Purim-themed memoir introduces Ari, a disaffected secular Israeli whose anti-religiousness manifested itself in baking pork-themed hamantaschen.
Ari Miller • Tel Aviv, Israel
Hamantaschen were an annual feature of my American-Jewish childhood. I made them with my mom and siblings. They were filled with poppy seeds because dad liked them, cherries because we all liked them and prunes because Jews will purchase any pie filling if put on sale.
When I became a baker in Tel Aviv it seemed only natural that I would make oznei haman, as the cookies are called locally. (It became hard to explain hash-entaschen in Hebrew, but that’s another story.) I have no religious leanings, mind you, it’s just that there are professional expectations of a baker.
Everywhere I turned, it seemed, every bakery was making the same god-damned purim cookies with the same tired fillings. It didn’t matter to me. I didn’t eat them and I couldn’t stomach them.
Instead of looking towards the competition, I turned within. If I were to make Purim cookies they would have to reflect who I am, my purpose in the kitchen and, undoubtedly, honor the actual baked good, not necessarily the religious children’s stories behind them.
So I made pumpkin pie filling, centering dollops of the orange-y goodness on rounds cut from short pastry. I pinched three corners, baked them and—while still warm—crowned the lil’ bastards with candied walnut.
Apple pie filling seemed the next logical step. I topped that with candied bacon bits because, to preempt all the naysayers, it made sense.
“How dare you abandon your Jewish roots for your American ones?” asked tradition, rasping on my neurotic brain. I cowered, apologetic to the voices of millions who demanded acknowledgement. And poppy seeds.
Those wonderful, miniature black pearls that add flavor, texture and fear of drug testing had demands of their own: ham and pineapple. You know who knows what goes best with poppy seeds? Why, poppy seeds, of course! The Hawaiian Purim cookie was nice but not the proper tribute to a Persian Hitler. Yeah, I guess I do have a thing for those kids’ stories after all.
Swine blood was in order. Obviously.
Off to La Maison I went, where, since they’re the best charcuterie in Tel Aviv, they make the best boudin noir (blood sausage) in town. Scraped out of it’s natural pork-intestine casing, I mixed in some citrus peels to lighten the mix and repeated that familiar act of cutting out circles of buttery dough, rolling balls of the blood sausage with my increasingly purple-stained fingers, forming three corners with three pinches just like my mom showed me as a child, pulling them hot from the oven and then dusting with cacao.
Ha! It looked just like a chocolate Purim cookie. And while there was full disclosure to avoid any unintended transgressions of vegetarianism, those who took a bite most often did so with an apprehensive look framing their pie-holes. Excellent. This cookie is the ever-lasting legacy of one of the first to take a genocidal stab against the Jewish folk. Fear is essential.
But most everyone smiled for having interacted with such a familiar food in such a unique new way. This is an important point because, in the end, it is just a god-damned cookie.
Ari Miller is a writer in Tel Aviv who spends most of his time in the kitchen. Most recently he worked in the kitchen at The Minzar and at his bakery, Food Underground. Currently he works as the junior cook at Oasis, the newly opened restaurant in Tel Aviv. His writing has most recently appeared, translated, in the Hebrew men’s magazine Blazer.