Hamantashen is the name for the tri-corner pastries Jews eat during Purim. What is their history? Why are they triangular?
The name hamantash (המן־טאַש) is a reference to Haman, the villain of Purim, as described in the biblical Book of Esther. The pastries are supposed to symbolize the defeated enemy of the Jewish people, and thus resemble the "ears of Haman" (Haman-taschen).
Another possible source of the name is a folk etymology: the original Yiddish word מאָן־טאַשן (montashn) or German word mohntaschen, came from the words for poppy-seed (mohn) and pockets (taschen). Record of a pastry called montash goes back as early as 16th Century Germany. When the Jews fled Germany for Eastern Europe in the late Middle Ages, they took the poppy seed pastry with them but added the Yiddish prefix “ha”, meaning “the” The word then became hamantash, which sounded like “Haman’s pocket.”
In the United States, many Jews regard the shape as a representation of Haman’s hat.
As mentioned above, the original hamantashen was filled with poppy seeds. In 17th-century Bohemia and Czechoslovakia, a prune filling, which was sometimes cooked for days, was added. Sometimes the flaky dough was swapped for supple yeast dough and filled with a savory buckwheat and onion mixture.
In addition to poppy seeds or prunes, many Hamantashen today also can be found stuffed with apricots or other fruits. According to an New York Times article, there is a large bakery in Tel Aviv, called Lehamim , where customers can find filled with marzipan, sour apple, dates with sweet red wine and cinnamon, halvah, and chocolate chip cream. They also offer unusual varieties such as Hamantaschen made from spelt flour filled with sugar-free preserves, and savory quiche-like versions stuffed with potatoes and sesame seeds or feta cheese and beets. Other bakeries have such unconventional fillings as amaretto, meringue with cream,
marshmallows, dulce de leche, strawberries and orange jam, and pistachio with rosewater.
Just for fun, I have thought of other possible flavors to explore:
- Yum Kippurs (herring stuffing for those who want to feel religious while not fasting on the Day of Atonement).
- Sour Grapes (for the impatient consumers who are displeased at not getting their original flavor choice)
- Fish (for your houseguests; they’re only good for three days)
- Potato and spinach (knish me quick!)
- Matza Ball (to help prepare for the next Jewish festival)
- Extra Prune (for those preparing to take a test; this will help them pass)
- Tasteless (need I say more?)
Got other suggestions? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share them with me.
Cantor Barbara Margulis