By Carol Goodman Kaufman
My kids love to choose among my various eccentricities and foibles when looking for a topic on which to tease me. And one of the things that cracks them up is my habit of annotating every recipe I try in the dozens of cookbooks that line my bookshelves. I even keep a special pen with red ink for that express purpose, and heaven help the person who touches that pen. It's just another source of joshing.
Ñow, some years ago, middle son Avi gifted me with a vegetarian cookbook because he was, coincidentally, a vegetarian. So, when daughter Elana and husband Adam came to stay at the house with some friends they, also being veggies, pulled out that same cookbook and found what to this day is a source of hilarity for the entire family: On every single recipe I had written, "This is delicious, but a real patchke."
For those unfamiliar with the Yiddish language, the late, great Leo Rosten in his classic book The Joys of Yiddish, defined the word ‘patchke’ to mean "to fuss or mess around inefficiently or inexpertly."
Well, I'm not sure if I was that inexpert or inefficient, but I certainly did fuss over all the slicing, dicing, chopping, sautéing, simmering, etc. involved in preparing those recipes. But it was worth the effort every time. The recipes in that book were uniformly excellent.
Although not etymologically, related the word patchke is emotionally connected to another word in the Yiddish lexicon. Again according to Rosten, the word tzimmes has its origins in German, from the words zum, meaning "to the" and essen,"eating." Due to the effort involved in preparing the many ingredients in the carrot-based dish (e.g. peeling, slicing, chopping) and the very long cooking time required, the word has come to mean "a prolonged procedure, an involved business, trouble, …"
In other words, a fuss. A patchke.
But the casserole known as tzimmes is one of the most traditional dishes that Ashkenazim enjoy at Rosh Hashanah, and it is definitely worth the patchke. The dish is traditional in great part due to the symbolism of its ingredients, top among which is the carrot. The Yiddish word for carrot is mern, meaning "to multiply," and it embodies the hopes for the multiple blessings of health, productivity, and joy we have for the new year. By the way, the fruits and vegetables used in a traditional tzimmes tend to be sweet, just as we wish for a sweet and abundant New Year. Mine uses sweet potatoes, winter squash, and prunes in addition to the carrots.
But for me, tzimmes is much more than a holiday tradition. It's a comfort food that reminds me both of the many meals I enjoyed at my Bubbie Fannie's, and the excitement my mother exhibited when I promised her that it would be on the table. Even son Avi fell off the vegetarian wagon for a short teenage minute to partake of it. (My tzimmes features a brisket.) It really is that good.
Of course, you can always do as the old ad used to say, "Skip the fuss, leave the tzimmes to us," and call a caterer. Either way, I wish you a healthy, sweet and abundant New Year.
While this recipe does require some peeling and chopping, and a long cooking time, but for the holiday, don't we like to make a patchke?
5 lbs. brisket
1 tablespoon oil
3 cups hot water
1 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
6 carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 2 inch chunks
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2 inch chunks
8 oz pitted prunes
Cornstarch and cold water
In a large Dutch oven with lid, heat oil over medium heat; brown meat well and drain off excess grease.
Combine water, juice, honey, brown sugar, cinnamon, and ginger; pour over meat.
Cover and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Arrange carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, and prunes around the meat.*
Cover pot and place in hot oven.
Bake for 1-1/2 hours. Uncover and bake for 1 to 2 hours more, or until the meat is fork tender.
Remove the vegetables and fruit to a serving dish. Remove meat to a carving board and slice against the grain.
If the sauce in the pan is too thin, combine a tablespoon of cornstarch and cold water and whisk it into the sauce to thicken. Simmer until it reaches the desired consistency, or about 15 minutes to cook the cornstarch.
Serve sliced meat topped with sauce and surrounded by fruit and vegetables.
* If you don't have a Dutch oven large enough, you can simply transfer the ingredients at this point to a large pan at this point, covering it tightly with aluminum foil.
Carol Goodman Kaufman is a recovering psychologist and criminologist with a passion for travel and food, and a lifelong love of storytelling. Her first children's picture book, Once in a Full Moon, came out in 2020, and a second, titled Pirate Ships and Shooting Stars, will drop this fall. Two of her short stories appear in the mystery anthology, A Plot for Any Occasion (Potter's Field Publishing), and Touchpoint Press will publish her first novel, The First Murder, sometime in 2023. She is still trying to find a home for her food history/cookbook, if only agents would be open to it! Carol invites readers to browse her writing at carolgoodmankaufman.com , and to listen to her podcasts “Skygazing With Carolinda” (for kids) and “Murder We Write.” Both can be found on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and iHeart Radio.