Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice
Nut-fruit balls are nature’s perfect treat for Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year for trees.
These sweet and crunchy confections are also known as Sugar Plums in Europe, where they are a traditional Christmas treat. The earliest known recipes for these candies hail from Ancient Egypt. Dates, apricots, coffee, rice, lemons, sugar, and ginger did not arrive in Europe until after the Crusades. Fruit-Nut confections have been enjoyed during Tu B’Shevat since before the first century BCE. I like to celebrate Tu B’Shevat by indulging in all natural fruit and nut treats. This is my way of showcasing the abundance provided by trees.
Mash the dates, walnuts, cinnamon, and cardamom with a mortar and pestle. Shape the paste into walnut sized balls with your fingers. Dip the balls into the warm honey, and then roll in the ground almonds to coat.The following Sephardic recipes are adapted from The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden.
These traditional Tu B’Shevat recipes are vegan, gluten-free, and diabetic friendly. They are very tactile, and require no cooking.
North African Date-Walnut Balls
Place the dates in a food processor. Grind them into a paste, adding a little cold water if necessary.When the dates are transformed into a paste, mix in the chopped walnuts.
Rub a little olive oil into your hands. This will prevent the paste from sticking to your fingers. Shape the paste into little balls.
Roll the date-nut balls in the ground walnuts to garnish.
Syrian Apricot-Pistachio Balls
Prepare in the same manner as above for the Date – Walnut Balls.
The following recipe is from Jewish Spain. It is a celebration of the almond, the first tree that blooms in Israel in the springtime.
Judeo-Spanish Dates Stuffed With Marzipan
Bring to a boil the water, sugar, and juice of ½ lemon in a saucepan. Allow to boil for about 10 minutes. Add the almond extract and ground almonds. Stir well for about 3 minutes.
Lubricate your hands with a little olive oil, so the paste does not stick to your fingers.
Stuff the dates with the almond paste.
Those of us celebrating Tu B’Shevat in the United States can have fun preparing fruit and nut balls from plants that are indigenous to North America.
The following recipe is subtly accentuated by the addition of brandy.
All American Fruit And Nut Balls
Combine all the above ingredients in a food processor. Shape into little balls. Roll around in a mixture of toasted, finely ground hazelnuts.
Tu B’Shevat in Israel is a time of revitalization as the longer and warmer days of spring arrive. Rejoice the rebirth of the trees by enjoying confections made from their fruit. May this holiday mark the start of renewal and growth for us all.