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Purim Just Got Sweeter


Purim festivities start March 15.

While many revelers are still recovering from Mardi Gras, the Jewish people are just getting started. It’s almost Purim, and you know what that means. Parades, parties, dancing, costumes, mitzvahs, groggers, and, of course, hamantaschen.

Purim commemorates the time when the Jewish people prevailed over their enemy, evil Haman, on the 13th day of Adar. On the 14th  day, they feasted to celebrate the heroics of Mordechai and Esther.

On  most Jewish holidays, food is symbolic, and Purim is no exception. One of my favorite foods to eat on this festive time of year is hamantaschen, a Yiddish word meaning “Haman’s pockets.” In Hebrew, it means “Haman’s ears,” which comes from the old practice of cutting off criminals’ ears before they were executed by hanging.

Talk about killing an appetite.

Anyway, there’s always a story behind a name, and one explanation is that the triangular-shaped cookies represents Haman’s three-cornered hat. Another midrash is that the three corners represent Queen Esther’s strength and the founders of Judaism: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Purim is also about mitzvot, particularly Mishloach Manotit, which requires us to send two items of ready-to-eat food or drink to at least one person. Why? To ensure that everyone has sufficient food for the Purim feast. Not only that, this mitzvah increases the love and friendship between Jews, no matter what our religious or social differences are.

The other mitzvah is called Matanot La’evyonim, which is to give money to at least two poor people after the Megillah reading, so that the blessing “She’hecheyanu” can apply to it. If you want to give food or money to a charity or cause, check out Thank Israeli Soldiers, which offers Purim care packages for the young men and women who sacrifice for our freedom.

For more info on the history, traditions, activities, and recipes of Purim go to www.aish.com.

Meanwhile, back to the food. All I know is when these doughy delights are filled with prune, poppy seeds, apricot, cherries, and whatever else tempts the taste buds, I can’t get enough of them.


Peanut butter and jelly hamantaschen.

Around this time, St. Louis balaboostahs get together with family and friends to celebrate all that is Purim.  For Kalanit Chappell, making hamantaschen is a highlight of the holiday. She starts with a whole grain dough (no eggs, no dairy) and adds flavorful ingredients, such as cinnamon, apple butter, brown sugar, or maple syrup.  Her favorite combos include apple butter, brown sugar, and a bit of chopped nuts for a coffee cake taste.  Another crowd pleaser is hamantaschen made with fresh ground peanut butter and a drizzle of raspberry jelly.

“Every year, a group of diverse Jewish women,  usually about eight to ten of us,  get together and make hundreds of hamantachen. This highly productive baking day is also a time to bond with each other.  There are women of all ages,  denominations, and abilities in this baking group, and it is what I most look forward to with Purim approaching,” said Chappell, whose children Chandler, 18, Alia, 11, and Neviyah, 5,  don’t mind being the taste testers.

To say the least, making hamantaschen from scratch is labor intensive, so if you’d rather let someone else do the work, I know just who to call. Alana Umansky Minoff  and her mom Peggy Umansky, the founders of Just Like Mom’s Bakery. In fact, this mother-daughter duo is taking orders now for hamantaschen, as well as cookies, cakes, pies, and sweets for any special occasion.

Just Like Moms Bakery“I love baking hamantaschen with my kids.  It is such a special binding time to teach them about Purim and see the great creations they come up with,” said Minoff, who encourages her kids Yael 7, Max 2, and Rafi, 9 months, to play with dough at an early age.  “I am so happy that I can pass on this unbelievable tradition of baking to my kids, and still have fun baking with my mom.”

For Peggy, an active grandma of six, the more commotion in her big gourmet kitchen the better.

“Baking is part of who I am, and  I want my family to have memories of baking with me. Since we love baking for the holidays, one day Alana said we should do this for a business. And the next thing we knew, Just Like Mom’s was born,” said Umansky, who still has her native Long Island accent even though she’s lived in St. Louis since 1977.  “The secret to our success is that we love to spend time together, and we often play off each other’s ideas and create new concepts.”  Her other daughter Michele is married with three children and lives outside New York City, and her son Jonny is a screenwriter living in LA. She often sends them care packages filled with their favorite goodies.

For Purim, their newest concoctions include rainbow stripes,  s’mores, and chocolate peanut butter hamantaschen. After experimenting with the sweetness of the dough, Minoff has perfected the color striped hamantaschen to taste as good as they look!

rainbow hamantashen

Rainbow hamantaschen delights all ages.

peanut butter hamantashen

Chocolate peanut butter hamantaschen right out of the oven.

They also make beautiful sweet and savory challahs in all kinds of shapes and designs–flowers, letters, star of Davids, even Elmo and a family tree! The possibilities are endless–look at these challah hamantaschen!

hallah blueberry hamantashen

Challah frames the fruity hamantaschen.

hallah hamantashen

Apricot challah hamataschen-YUM!

Just Like Mom’s is no ordinary bakery. It’s special because customers can bring in their favorite family recipes, from rhugglah and strudel to babkas and chocolate cake, and they will prepare the dessert “just like mom.” With their culinary skills and experience, they sell delicious treats AND memories. And you can’t put a price on that.

“Since heritage and family are so important to us, we want our customers to remember their good eats from the past.  However, many people do not bake, so they can bring us a family recipe and we will make it for them,” said Umansky.

“I think your heritage is an important part of you and needs to be preserved.  I often watched my grandmothers cook and bake, and I would write down there recipes, guessimating the amounts, because they never measured. So I have recipes for poppy seed cookies, mandlebroit (kamish bread), rice pudding my husband’s uncle made in his coffee shoppe, and even pirgroies, which is a Polish, half moon-shaped pastry filled with whatever leftovers you have, usually potatoes, meat, or cheese,” she said.

For Just Like Mom’s, bringing the generations together is what it’s all about.

For your all your baking needs, go to  www.justlikemomsbakery.com, a proud sponsor of the 2nd annual Listen To Your Mother St. Louis.

Let’s share our Jewish journey together. If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, please “like” my website Mishegas of Motherhood.