by Claudia Camhi
with thanks to the staff, parents and pupils of Apples and Honey Nursery for all their input
Baking and sharing food is a hands-on way to build a sense of community and learn about Jewish values and traditions. At Apples and Honey Nursery children follow the seasons and Jewish festivals through cooking and they want to share their recipes with you.
Believe it or not these recipes are tricky to devise as they require engaging and involving children between two and five years old, integrating cooking with all areas of the curriculum and most importantly being able to eat the fruits of hard labour….quickly! Our experts at Apples and Honey suggest that assembling components is the best way for groups of young children to ‘learn as they do’.
Daily and weekly routines
There are daily and weekly routines around food. The mid-morning snack is set up to be a communal experience. The children busily cut and plate seasonal fruit and vegetables and sit around the table together to share the snack which is laid out attractively on colourful plates. They are encouraged to think about where the fruits come from (do they grow on the ground, vines, trees, bushes…?) before reciting the appropriate blessings in Hebrew. Taking a piece for themselves, each child must pass the plate on to the child sitting next to them. Reciting the blessing, offering the snack to others and remembering not to keep their favourite foods all to themselves… that’s a pretty tough ask for such young children. They are also given a choice of milk (halav) or water (mayim) to drink and then are allowed to pour it themselves. A few spillages here or there are mopped up without fuss: it’s the only way to learn. Finally each child takes their cup and plate over to the sink to wash up, all part of learning to take responsibility for the whole process.
The smell of freshly baked hallah surrounds all at Wimshul on a Friday.
Shabbat is welcomed in at Apples and Honey on a Friday. It is the highlight of the week for the children as it is the day that they each make their own mini-hallah. This allows for plenty of punching, pulling, plaiting and decorating hallah dough which is made and brought in by parents in a rota system. Once every half term the children make the hallah dough themselves. This gives them an opportunity to see how it expands overnight.
Whilst kneading the dough the children talk about their feelings. Sometimes they can choose to punch out all their ‘bad feelings’ and get rid of them before Shabbat. At other times they think about all their ‘good feelings’ and punch them into the hallah to make it taste more delicious.
The parents are invited to celebrate Shabbat before pick up time. They also get to eat the freshly baked large hallah. The shape is usually in the traditional three strand plait but this is varied during the year with lovely round and sweet hallot for Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot and Simhat Torah; a dreidel shaped hallah for Hanukkah, a ladder shape when learning about Jacob’s dream and even six plaited hallot on other occasions.
Celebrating Kabbalat Shabbat gives the children an opportunity to learn and reinforce the customs and rituals of their faith. They sing songs, recite blessings and share all this together in a family atmosphere. Each week a different child gets to be the Shabbat host who sits at the head table and invites all his/her friends to share Shabbat with them.
The Jewish Festival Cycle
Apple wedges dipped in runny honey, honey glazed hallah and honey cake are a must for Rosh Hashanah. If you visit at this time of the year, you will find many little sticky fingers getting ready to celebrate the Jewish New Year.
During Sukkot children learn, amongst other things, about the last harvests before winter. They usually have a visit to a local pick-your-own farm, Garson’s Farm in Surrey to pick fruit and vegetables which they use to decorate the community Sukkah.
A Simhat Torah favourite is the preparation of an edible Torah. Wraps are carefully spread with cream cheese placed in a ‘squeezy’ bag to allow children to do their own writing. A bread stick is placed at each side of the wrap and rolled in to resemble a Torah Roll. The writing can be also done with jam or fruit shoelaces.
Did you know that Hanukkah candles can be eaten? At the nursery children make their edible Hanukkiot with a pitta bread base, bread sticks for the candles and satsumas or carrot sticks for the flames.
Tu B’Shevat isn’t just a tree hugging festival. We celebrate with all our senses, enjoying the textures, smells and tastes of 15 different fruits as we make fruit kebabs whilst also working on pattern making and sequencing. We talk about our feelings when the children create self-portraits out of fruit. A satsuma segment can be both a smile and a sad face, raisins can represent curly hair or tears.
Noisy Purim is tons of fun and lots of noise. At Apples and Honey all join in making popcorn, watching it pop and imitating its popping sounds whilst jumping up and down. Facilitating physical development has never been so much fun. The sweet hallah, full of raisins and chocolate drops, is not to be missed. The children also prepare Mishloah Manot baskets to give away, often to their friends at Nightingale House.
For Passover the timer is on. Children busily make Matzot in less than 18 minutes. They also squeeze a mixture of coconut, sugar and egg into pyramid shapes and get them ready for baking. At Tu B’Shevat, the children have planted parsley seed which they watch grow ready to be used on the Seder plate at Pesah!
Another way to experience the bitter sweet taste of the Israelite experiences in Egypt is through our Moses in the bulrushes activity. Having modelled a plasticene Baby Moses, wrapped him in a small blanket and placed him on a bed of damp cotton wool, the children sprinkle cress seeds around him and then wait to watch the ‘bulrushes’ grow, hiding Baby Moses from view. When the children harvest the mustard and cress a week later they can explore the sharpness of the mustard leaves alongside the sweetness of the cress as well as revealing the figure of Moses to be discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter.
How better to experience the Land of Milk and Honey than to create an edible Map of Israel for Yom Ha’Atzmaut? On oval pitta bread or home-made dough, the children can outline the shape of the map with tomato sauce and add its colours and flavours. Basil leaves or pesto can represent the sea and rivers, grated cheese mountains can sprout herb trees, rock salt can denote the Dead Sea and the children can use the seven species to mark places of interest. The figure of King David can be cut, crown and all, and placed on the map in Jerusalem. Then we sprinkle him with olive oil – what a royal feast!
Lag B’Omer means picnic time. At Apples and Honey it means the nursery students preparing a picnic for a friend. This requires them to listen, wait and try to take another child’s point of view. They need to ask their friend if they would prefer cream cheese or butter, if they would like it with or without cucumber. Then the little chefs prepare the sandwich having to keep in mind that this is not one for them to eat but for their friend to enjoy. Finally, they have to give their creation away and wait for their own sandwich to arrive. This is much harder to do when the friend has marked differences in their food preferences… certainly food for thought and a lesson for life!
Milk and honey are Shavuot’s special ingredients. Children at nursery make fruit milk shakes with ice cream and love, blending them themselves. The way the milk, fruit and ice cream transform in front of their eyes captures their attention and gives way to all sorts of questions and explanations. They also make individual cheesecakes using a biscuit as a base, then they top it with cream cheese and maybe some jam or fruit. Squeezing fresh oranges is a holistic experience. What pride when the children manage to produce juice from their physical exertions! They can drink all those vitamins themselves or share with a friend.
Festivals of Other Faiths and Cultures
At Apples and Honey, we use cooking as a medium for teaching the children about other faiths and cultures too and it is amazing how often rice features in these celebrations. For the Chinese New Year we prepare rice with soy sauce comparing the textures of dry and cooked rice and then attempting to eat it with chopsticks.
Rice pudding is made for the Muslim feast of Eid-al Adha, flavoured with cardamom and rose water; a delicious treat for children and adults alike. Rice is also central to Norooz, the Persian New Year celebrations when it is cooked with green vegetables and is seasoned with parsley, coriander,chives, dill and fenugreek. These exotic dishes expand our horizons and help the children to literally taste and enjoy the flavour of various cultures.
The biblical story of Creation has an edible version too. Children use iceberg lettuce to represent clouds; raisins take the place of birds and breadsticks for trees. At times, slices of banana appear, resembling the sun, but that’s dependant on the weather!
For the Genesis story of Esau who sells his birthright to his brother Jacob for a ‘mess of pottage’ prepared by Jacob, the children prepare and eat some ‘red soup’ made from carrots and red lentils.
Recently we have had a wonderful new development at the nursery, the Biblical Garden. In their very own playground, the children can find the herbs, bushes and trees that are described in Biblical stories. They realise these plants and trees not only exist nowadays but also grew in a long gone era. The children get to know what a fig or olive tree looks like as well as find out what kind of care it needs. They see the grapevine changing around the calendar year and learn about the celebrations involving grapes, raisins and or wine. Even though the pomegranate is a Mediterranean bush it has managed to grow and even fruit in South West London. So have herbs like coriander, sage, hyssop, garlic and dill.
Children can harvest these herbs and use them for a festival: parsley at Pesach, coriander for Havdalah.
The children also experience the full cycle of plant life from planting a seed, to caring and nurturing its growth, to eating it. Finally, the leftovers are composted in the nursery’s very own wormery. The wormery produces a good amount of liquid compost that is sold at nursery and synagogue fairs to raise funds for the nursery.
So the use of this garden helps connect horticulture, history, Jewish traditions and learning, as well as responsibility towards the community and the environment. Wow!