History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

25 February 2013

If guns were but invented now, this Haman I would shoot, sir!

Happy Purim, everyone! (Okay, it was yesterday, but whatever.)

Purim is one of my favorite holidays; it's the Jewish celebration of the story of Esther (which I encourage you to read if you haven't, it's a fantastic story with a royal divorce, a beauty pageant, both comical comeuppance and tragic comeuppance (both of the same guy), a fifty-foot-tall gallows, a plot to kill all the Jews, a brave young woman saving her people, and a king who despite being kind of a jerk still is willing to grant his wife any request, even unto half his kingdom), and it also has some truly delicious cookies associated with it: hamantaschen. Hamantaschen are triangle-shaped cookies filled with thick, jammy goodness, some of the most traditional flavors being prune, apricot, and poppyseed. They look like this:

Here are the ones I made (hanging out with our Hulk):

While tracking down a new recipe for prune filling this year (it's DELICIOUS), I discovered this story about the origins of prune as a traditional hamantaschen filling: "David Brandeis, a plum preserve merchant, was acquitted after being charged with poisoning some plum preserves. He was released from prison just before Purim. In order to celebrate his freedom, the townspeople of Jungbunzlau in northeastern Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) filled the hamantaschen with povidl, plum preserves, and referred to the holiday as Povidl Purim."

I wanted to know more, and after some googling, was able to track down this fuller account in The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, published 1907.

Purim Povidl (Plum Jam Purim): Instituted by David Brandeis of Jung-Bunzlau, Bohemia, in 1731, to be celebrated annually by all the members of his family on the 10th of Adar in commemoration of his deliverance from a calamity that was brought upon him by slanderers. Brandeis kept a grocery store at Jung-Bunzlau. On the 4th of Shevat a Christian girl, the daughter of a bookbinder, purchased from Brandeis some "povidl" (="plum jam"), after partaking of which the members of the bookbinder's family became ill, and the bookbinder himself died within a few days. The burgomaster of the city, being informed of the matter, ordered the store to be closed and David Brandeis, his wife, and son to be imprisoned on the charge of selling poisonous food to Christians. After a careful investigation by the municipal authorities and later by the court of appeal at Prague also, it was found that the bookbinder's death had been due to consumption, whereupon the prosecution was dropped. Brandeis recorded the event in a Hebrew scroll which he called "Shir ha-Ma'alot le-Dawid," making it obligatory upon all his descendants "to read this scroll every year on the 10th of Adar and to make that day a day of rejoicing and gladness." The festival was still observed by the descendants of David in the nineteenth century. 
Depressing yet weirdly uplifting. People keep trying to bring us down but we keep going! We will take our suffering and transform it into delicious cookies!

Happy Purim.



Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Happy Purim! I used to love visiting my friend Kathy Kamish's house for Purim. Her grandmother made the most delicious Hamantaschen!! YUM!! And I think David Brandeis had reason to celebrate. Not all court cases against Jews ended so well in the 18th and 19th centuries!

8:11 PM  
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