I generally spend Rosh Hashanah at my parents’ house. This works out very well for me because our minhag is to eat pretty much all the symbolic foods in the simanim booklet, and I have a bunch of little kids who refuse to try anything new.
“Eew! What’s that?”
“It’s a new fruit.”
“Oh. I don’t like new fruit.”
So there’s no way the kids are going to eat any of the foods that they don’t come home with a song about, such as black-eyed peas, and that leaves just me and my wife, and neither of us are crazy about black-eyes peas either. And it’s not really worth boiling two peas.
Maybe we should just swallow them with water, like a pill.
So we go to my parents’ house, where between us and my siblings, there are about 20 people. That way my kids are free to spend the meals sitting way down at the end of the table and sticking their fingers in the honey, and the adults are free to huddle together at the other end of the table and try really hard not to think about it. By the end of the meal, we have to throw out the table.
But if you’re actually making Yom Tov on your own, and are not sure how to prepare beets or find leeks or get your hands on a fish head (very carefully, is my advice), I’ve prepared a field guide to help you. I have some time on my hands, because I don’t have to cook.
There are two parts to the beet: There are the leaves, which are kind of like spinach, and there is the root, which is kind of like a horseradish without the radish. (It’s just a horse.)You can also buy beets in the form of a liquid called “borscht,” which tastes exactly like it sounds.
Beet fun facts:
•In the old days, the root part was used as a medicine. You know how nowadays a lot of medicines taste like bubble gum? Before bubble gum came along, they tasted like beets.
•In Australia, people put pickled beets on their hamburgers. In America, we use pastrami.
•According to my Encyclopedia Britannica (1957), “The Romans spread beets throughout the Roman empire.” This is probably what led to their downfall.
Pomegranates are great because they have a very long lifespan, so you can buy a bag of them once and pretty much be set for life. It is said that there are pomegranates in Europe that are over 200 years old.
I’m not actually sure how to eat one, though. I’ve always sucked off the seeds and spit them out, but then someone told me you’re supposed to swallow the seeds. They should come with instructions.
Pomegranate fun facts:
• Another name for a pomegranate is the “Chinese apple,” because “pomegranate” is really hard to spell. In China, of course, they just call it an “apple.” And on Rosh Hashanah, they bring in “American apples” and they say things like, “How do we eat this? There are almost no seeds!”
This is not true. China is actually the biggest grower of regular apples in the world. But I have no idea what they call them.
• Also, in Australia, the term “Chinese apple” is used to refer to the riberry (some kind of berry, I’m guessing), and in Holland and Germany the term refers to oranges. “That’s like comparing apples to Chinese apples,” is a common German saying.
• Pomegranate juice stains like you wouldn’t believe. There are currently stains in Europe that are over 200 years old.
Squash is another one of those foods that tastes exactly like it sounds. There are over a 100 varieties of squash. It’s like at some point they ran out of names for vegetables, so they said, “Okay, from here on out, we’re going to call every new vegetable “squash.”
The easiest way to get squash—even easier than going to the supermarket—is to plant it in your backyard, because squash is the easiestthing to grow. You can plant a single seed, even by accident, and before you know it, your entire property will be covered in gourds and you will be, as they say, “squashed.”
Squash fun facts:
• The word “squash” actually comes from the Native American word askutasquash, meaning “green thing eaten raw.” Obviously, the Native Americans hadn’t discovered kugels.
• Most men have nothing against squash, but left to their own devices, they would never actually think to eat it on their own.
A leek is basically a scallion that has grown completely out of control: “Whoa! You should have picked that scallion months ago.”
The way to eat a leek is you put it in your soup, and then everyone sitsaround making leek-related puns. (Such as: “Hey! My bowl has a leek in it!”)
There are several ways to get honey, and many of them are dangerous and irresponsible. You can grow it in your backyard, for example, and then go outside in one of those funny outfits with screens on it whenever you want to, say, pick up a squash. Just bear in mind that you also have screens on your house, and once in a while a bug gets in. So imagine if those screens were inches from your face.
Alternatively, you can buy one of those bottles that are shaped like a bear. Why a bear? I don’t know. Better a miniature bear than an enormous bee.
Honey fun facts:
•Honeycomb is the only cereal named after a honeycomb.
•September is National Honey Month. I have no idea what this means. But it’s also National Rice month, National Potato Month, National Chicken Month, and National Self-Improvement Month.I wish I was making this up.
•Honey is a preservative, so you can make a honey cake, and it will be good for years. (“Good” is a relative term.) My mother-in-law once made a honey cake for her son to bring to yeshiva at the beginning of the year, and he found it behind his bed before Pesach. It was still soft.
I’m actually not sure how to get a ram’s head, but my parents usually buy a fish head. And I’m not even sure how to get that. I think they walk into the store and ask for the whole fish.So if you’re in the market for a ram’s head, just walk into the store and ask for a whole ram.
To prepare the head, open up the paper wrapping, gasp, and run screaming from the house. Then come back in and say things like, “I feel like it’s staring at me.” You can cover the eye with a piece of carrot.
A lot of people are not too crazy about fish heads, so when I go to my parents I bring along a beef tongue. A lot of people don’t like the thought of eating tongue, but I say it can’t be any worse than eating a hot dog. Nevertheless, before you serve tongue to innocent people, you should first give some thought to the kinds of things that cows lick.
Spotting a new fruit is easy. You just look around the fruit section until you see a fruit that you’ve never seen before, and that’s your new fruit.
My brother usually buys the new fruit, and every year he tries to top himself. Last year he came home with this hairy thing that we weren’t totally sure was a fruit; we thought maybe it was some kind of creature that had come into the country with the fruit, and the supermarket had decided to charge him for it anyway. But we peeled it and peeled it and peeled it, and in the end, we were left with a delicious, juicy fruity thing that was maybe the size of a grape. So you should always get more than one kind of fruit, just in case.
Other fun facts:
•Black-eyed peas are also called “China beans.” I don’t know if anyone consults China before they come up with these names.
•Orange carrots get their color from beta carotene. That’s why they’re called carrots. Wow.
•There are a lot of facts about leeks, but none of them are fun.
Fun Facts aren’t as fun as they sound. They’re actually a lot of work.
By Mordechai Schmutter