A Case for Tradition

Prune Hamantaschen Trump Fancified Cookies as Part of Purim Nostalgia

How The Cookie Crumbles: Lekvar, or prune butter, is one of the three most iconic fillings for hamantaschen, along with poppy seed and apricot jam.
LEAH KOENIG
How The Cookie Crumbles: Lekvar, or prune butter, is one of the three most iconic fillings for hamantaschen, along with poppy seed and apricot jam.

By Leah Koenig

Published March 09, 2011, issue of March 18, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Last winter, while tucking into blintzes and borscht at our favorite greasy spoon in Manhattan’s East Village, my husband and I struck up a conversation with an older man sitting down the counter from us. He was a classic Woody Allen-era New Yorker: oversized glasses, rumpled shirt and a thick Brooklyn accent — sociable enough, but with an edge of loneliness.

We chatted about the weather and the inevitable disappointment of the Mets’ upcoming season, enjoying our brush with old-time Jewish New York. And as we gathered up our coats to leave, I asked his name. “Simon Fischer,” he said, with a knowing look. “You know, like the prune butter.” We didn’t know. What was the connection between this fellow and a slightly passé fruit preserve? But, this being Manhattan, we were rushing off to somewhere and did not take time to ask for elaboration.

It was not until months later, while in the jam aisle at a supermarket, that I saw it: a stout glass jar wrapped in a blue label with the words “Simon Fischer Prune Butter” emblazoned in yellow on the front. I had stood in front of that jam display many times and had never seen the prune butter, though clearly it had been there all along. Noticing it now, and thinking of our own Simon Fischer existing somewhere out there in our big, shared city, made me a little wistful. I bought the jar.

On the trip home, I started thinking about Purim. Prune butter, also called lekvar, is a thick, sweet preserve typically made from dried plums. The word lekvar can also refer to fruit butters made from apricots, apples or peaches, but it usually refers to prunes. Popular across Central and Eastern Europe, particularly Slovakia and Hungary, prune butter is a common ingredient in many pastries, from the Ashkenazic layered pastry fluden to rugelach. And, as all long-time hamantaschen eaters will attest, it is one of the three most iconic fillings for Purim’s tri-cornered cookie, along with poppy seed, or mon, and apricot jam.

Truthfully, I never particularly liked prune-filled hamantaschen — or most traditional hamantaschen flavors, for that matter. They all just seemed so quaint and uninspired. I suppose the crumbly, yellow triangles filled with hyper-sweet canned pastes that passed for hamantaschen during my childhood in the 1980s also played a part in shaping my distaste. For years I avoided eating hamantaschen entirely. But as an adult I learned to make my own, starting with homemade dough and then filling the pockets with more contemporary flavors, like pear and ginger compote, Nutella swirled with almond butter, or chunks of white chocolate and raspberry jam. At a hamantaschen-making party a couple of years ago, my guests and I ditched the sweet stuff completely, adding dried herbs to the dough, and stuffing the center with a savory mix of sautéed onions, mushrooms and cheddar cheese.

Still, as delicious as these unorthodox fillings are, there is always a case to be made for tradition — perhaps not an ersatz, highly processed replica of tradition, but tradition the way it was originally intended. So, while prune hamantaschen are not a part of my own Purim nostalgia, they are worth revisiting. That’s where Simon Fischer comes in.

Thinking back on it, it is unlikely that the rumpled gentleman at the diner had any connection with Simon Fischer Prune Butter, aside from the coincidence of a shared name. The brand is owned and distributed by Sokol & Company in Countryside, Ill., 20 miles southwest of Chicago. Originally founded in 1907 by an immigrant from Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), today the company represents an eclectic mix of commercial food products under its own line, Solo, and other brand names — including Simon Fischer, which it acquired in the mid-1980s. Still, for my husband and me, the coincidence of that shared name led to something wonderful and delicious.

Simon Fischer’s prune butter, which I sampled straight from the jar, was smooth and full of rich flavor. I noticed, however, that the ingredient list contained corn syrup, surely a modern, industrial addition to traditional lekvar. So, in efforts to merge this exploration in tradition with my contemporary preference for things artisanal over artificial, I made my own prune butter (recipe at right). The resulting lekvar was deep and complex, a sweet, spice-kissed fruit paste that came together in a half-hour. And the scent that filled my kitchen — prunes simmering with ginger, cinnamon and orange zest — felt simultaneously Old World and entirely contemporary.

After years of avoiding anything that whiffed of tradition on Purim, the experience of meeting Simon Fischer (in both person and jar form) and making lekvar completely reinvigorated my interest in prune hamantaschen — enough so that I may even skip the Nutella entirely this year. So Simon, wherever you are in 2011, this one’s for you.

Leah Koenig writes a monthly column for the Forward on food and culinary trends. Contact her at ingredients@forward.com

Prune Lekvar

1½ cup pitted dried prunes, roughly chopped

2⁄3 cup water

3 tablespoons orange juice

2 tablespoons honey

¼ teaspoon orange zest (to taste)

¼ teaspoon ginger powder

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon honey

1. 
Put all ingredients except brown sugar and honey in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat; stir gently to combine. Bring to a simmer then reduce heat to low; cover pot and cook until prunes soften, about 20 minutes. Uncover and let cook until water evaporates, about 2 minutes.

2. 
Remove from heat and, while still warm, mash with a fork or potato masher until desired consistency is reached. Stir in brown sugar and honey until dissolved. Store in an airtight container in fridge until ready to use.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.