Purim Baskets

Posted: February 24, 2010 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , | 4 Comments »

Coming soon upon us is my absolutely favorite holiday of the year, Purim. This year it’s early, it starts the night of Saturday, February 27th, when it usually takes place some time in early March. In my purely unbiased opinion, Purim kicks a huge amount of ass; it celebrates the events that took place in the Book of Esther.

Real quick if you don’t know the story: Ancient Persia. Drunkard king kills former wife because she wouldn’t fulfill embarrasing request; looks for new wife. Esther, niece of Jewish scholar Mordechai, is selected. But, since this is ancient Persia, being Jewish is just barely tolerated — think pre-Civil Rights blacks in America. Thus, she hides her Jewish identity from the king. Haman, the King’s top advisor, hates the Jews! Big surprise. He convinces the King to proclaim an unbreakable decree that everyone in the entire kingdom on such and such a date, everyone can run around killing Jews, no problem! The date is chosen by a lottery. (In Hebrew, “pur”, thus the holiday of ‘lots’ or, “Purim”.) Esther knows she’s in a position to stop this but doesn’t know what to do, since by helping her people, she will reveal her Jewish identity and who knows how the drunken, murderous king will react? Her uncle Mordechai urges her to see the King. She does, and asks to throw a party, everyone has a great time. Later, she asks him to throw another one, this time with just the two of them and Haman. This is a big honor for Haman and he wants to suck up big time to the Queen of Persia. So he comes to the private party and at one point while the King is not around, she reveals that she is Jewish and how dare he kill her people? Haman, fearing for his life, throws himself at her feet and begs for mercy just as the King returns. He thinks that he’s making a move on his Queen and gets pissed. She reveals to them both her true idenity and that Haman’s decree would include killing her too. The king, enraged, has Haman and his entire family hanged. Since the decree is unbreakable, a new decree is written to counteract the old, saying that Jews are allowed to fight back themselves. And they did!

And now today, we celebrate Purim on that same date on the Hebrew calendar, by 1) hiding ourselves like Esther, by wearing masks and costumes, 2) partying and drinking until we can’t remember who in the story is bad and who is good, 3) giving out mishloach manot, gift baskets of food to friends and family, 4) giving charity to the poor (matanot le’evionim), and 5) hearing the megillah read, which recounts the story of Purim.

This is the holiday where hamentashen come from, those triangular cookies filled with jam. It means ‘Haman’s ears’ though I’m not sure why we’d want to eat his ears.

Rather than list the obvious here, which would be my hamentashen recipe, let’s face it, everyone and their great-aunt has some variation on hamentashen. So here’s something different: how did I make my Purim basket this year?

First of all, I love giving presents to people. It makes me warm inside, to brighten someone’s day and seeing their touched expressions when they receive it. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it’s wonderful to surprise a friend no matter what it is. This is one of the biggest reasons why I am a Purim fan. Since many of my friends and family live far away, I mail my baskets. “Basket” is a bit misleading. Mine are small boxes, sized to fit in a standard New York apartment building mailbox so people don’t have to go to the Post Office to pick them up. When I started doing this a couple of years ago, I ordered some from Uline and I’m still using the same set of boxes; they send a lot

Requirements for mishloach manot are to give baskets to at least one person on Purim day, containing at least two different ready-to-eat foods. That’s it. Though people can get very competitive as to how grandiose and splendid their baskets can be. It can turn into a real free-for-all, like giant baskets of chocolate and sweets, imported fruits, etc. One year when I lived at home, my family and I spent an entire day delivering baskets to various friends and family all over town. I guess I inherited some of that urge too. At least one of us had to stay at home to receive everyone else’s gifts too!

My basket is pretty simple but can get full quickly. First, I cover the box like I would a textbook, with old magazine photos, preferably art-y shots with no text. I prefer the New York Times Magazine or their T Style magazine. Yeah, I’m a snob. Then I cover the box again completely with clear packing tape, so the decoration doesn’t tear in the mail. This whole process can take over an hour per box, so I don’t make very many each year, unfortunately! This year there are only a few, even though I started a month ago (for real), and they are mostly going to family. Sorry guys!

Then, what to put in the box? Well, aside from hamentashen (this year: pumpkin, chocolate and peanut butter chips, and strawberry jam), I like to include a variety of items, so I’ll have a juice box, a squeeze pack of peanut or almond butter, tea, dried fruit strips, a small box of raisins, little candies, etc. I’ll also include a note. You know, just to say hi. You can put anything you want in these baskets, hamentashen are just a custom, like drinking eggnog on Christmas. You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but…

I’m sending mine out today, a Wednesday, so they’ll hopefully arrive by Saturday or Monday. I’m hoping people will enjoy them as much as I enjoyed making them!



Johanna: The Improviser

Never quite follows the recipe. Doesn't really measure. Tastes with her fingers. Somehow, it always works.

Alyssa: The Triple Threat

Can do it all. And modest to boot.

Bakezilla: We Use Mixers Too

She likes to bake. Actually, baking is the only thing she does. It's a passion.

Rita: The Kosher Chick

Restrictions have nothing on her.