Photos: Celebrating the Jewish Holiday of Purim With Food

The Jewish holiday of Purim begins tonight. Every year, the Jewish people celebrate the holiday of Purim, a rowdy and joyful day remembering a historical triumph over antisemitism.

As legend goes, in ancient Persia, the evil advisor to a king tried to wipe out the Jewish people when a Jewish man named Mordechai refused to bow down to him. The queen of this ancient land was secretly Jewish. She came forward to stop the evil plot, and saved her people.

Each year on Purim, Jews around the world retell this story of salvation. We drink and party in celebration. And we eat some very special cookies to commemorate the day.

We’re Going to Eat Your Hat

The cookies in question are called Hamantaschen. You might have seen them appear in bakeries around this time of year, especially if you live in an area with a large Jewish population and lots of Jewish food.

Hamantaschen cookie on a white plate
Hamantaschen cookie on a white plate

The evil advisor in the ancient story was named Haman. He supposedly wore a tricornered hat. The triangular Hamantaschen cookies are meant to recall the shape of his hat. Jewish people vilify Haman and celebrate his demise by eating these hat-shaped cookies.

Baking Hamantashen

Hamantaschen are easy to make. Baking them is a great thing to do with kids, whether you’re Jewish or not. I recently baked Hamantaschen from Bay Area cookbook author Beth Lee, but there are hundreds of recipes online.

Hamantaschen are essentially sugar cookies stuffed with something sweet. Traditionally, they were filled with prunes, but today many people use jam. I especially like hamantaschen with apricot jam.

Baking the cookies involves making a dough with copious amounts of butter, filling it with sweet filling, pinching the sides up into a triangle, and baking the cookies until they’re toasty and sweet. A bit of the filling peeks out of each one.

Filled hamantaschen cookies going into the oven
Filled hamantaschen cookies going into the oven

In addition to eating these tasty cookies, Jews also celebrate Purim by putting on elaborate skits telling the Purim story, and waving noisemakers to drown out Haman’s name symbolically.

One commandment for the holiday is to drink as much as possible. Cookies and booze. No wonder Purim is considered such a joyful time in the Jewish faith!

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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