Immigrants, no matter where from, and where re-settling, are accustomed to creating from scratch what they cannot find elsewhere. No matter what the environment, human beings have an innate desire to always remain close to home in some way. Whether it takes form in the holidays we celebrate, the values we uphold, or the food we put on our tables- a touch of home is what binds us to where we are from.
Growing up in a Jewish family, there were certain traditions we kept around the high holidays; Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). On Rosh Hashanah we dressed up in tights and our nice shoes, dresses and suits and went to synagogue. In the cool but sunny September air we ate (often overly dry- sorry Grandma) honey cake or apples and honey to symbolise a sweet new year. On Yom Yippur we went back to synagogue, this time with rumbling stomachs as is the tradition to fast in attempt to deepen and focus thoughts on atonement- forgiving ourselves, others, and asking for forgiveness from those whom we wronged through out the year. In truth, this traditional fast helped me to narrow my focus, just not on forgiveness but on what and when my next meal would come.
At this time of year I cannot help but reflect on how I am passing on my upbringing in Jewish culture to my children. How to make from scratch what I cannot find around me. It is something I will continue to reevaluate with every passing year, redefining for myself what it means each time. This year, in particular, I bring with me a deeply rooted value for family (both of blood and of heart), for life-long learning, and for celebration and care through food; what we cook, what we eat, and how we share it.
This year, more than the one-off symbolism of a sweet new year that eating apples dipped in honey represents, I want more. I want to create and pass on a daily, ritualistic value that is not tied to just one time of the year, but rather thread through out each week, each month. This year, I am thinking in specific about the Jewish deli. The one we took grandma to on Sundays. The one where my father sipped chocolate phosphates and my uncle couldn’t resist the blintzes whenever he came for a visit. Where my mom ate mushroom and barley soup and my sister and I gobbled up half done dill pickles and green tomatoes. The one I hung out in as a weird teenager with my Jewish friends without having to explain to each other what we were ordering (clearly chicken and noodle soup with matzoh balls), the one I took Nick to for his first real Reuben sandwich. The one we take the girls to every time we return to Cleveland.
Now, traditionalists will balk that this is some bastardization of that wonderfully sour pickled green tomato served alongside the half done pickles at the Jewish American deli. And they aren’t wrong. These pickled both green and slightly-orange though still firm tomatoes also contain heat from the mild, lip-tingling jalapeños I’ve mixed in with them. Normally, the diaspora that leaves home is the one to recreate the most traditional version of what they left. In truth, I couldn’t decide which I wanted more that I couldn’t find; pickled chilies or pickled tomatoes so these were the results. These tomatoes are a blend which represents several places, but at their core they represent an authentic lived experience. With them comes the stories of real places and people that have left an impression on me; the ties that bind.
My wish for this Rosh Hashanah is not for just a sweet new year, but for one that is able to forge ahead into new territory, carrying with them the stories from the years past. L’shanah tovah to all who are celebrating, each in their own way.
Pickled Tomatoes with Jalapeño
2 tbsp. golden caster sugar
180ml apple cider vinegar
1 pinch sea salt
2-4 jalapenos (depending on how much heat you like)
4-6 small green tomatoes *or whatever will fit in your jar
3-4 small, slightly but not fully ripe tomatoes *or whatever will fit in your jar
In a sterilised mason jar add your vinegar, sugar, salt and water and stir to combine until sugar fully dissolves.
Next, thinly slice jalapenos, halve your green tomatoes, and slice your slighter riper tomatoes into thick slices. Begin by adding your chiles to the jar, followed by the tomatoes. I like to line the sides of the jar with the sliced tomatoes, saving as much of the centre as possible for the halved tomatoes. Seal tight with lid.
Leave for a few hours at room temperature, swirling the jar every 30 minutes or so to evenly distribute.
Sliced tomatoes should be pickled and ready to eat in 24-48 hours. Green tomatoes will take another day or so. *If you plan on serving both kinds of tomatoes together, begin the process on day 1 with the green tomatoes, adding the riper ones the following day or two later. Serve alongside half done pickles OR sliced in a grilled cheese sandwich for extra deliciousness.