When Ruth Cohen was growing up on Adams Street, on the East Side of Buffalo, her mother would simmer baseball-sized beef meatballs in garlicky tomato sauce for Rosh Hashana.
More than 70 years later, Cohen, born of Russian immigrants from a village near Kiev, keeps their tradition alive.
"My mother made sweet and sour meatballs, and we always loved them," said Cohen, a retired mathematics teacher who lives in Amherst. "And my kids love them."
The Jewish holiday marks the beginning of a new year, and for those celebrating, it's an occasion for wishes for a sweet year to come. So almost every dish on the Rosh Hashana table has some sweetness to it, said Cohen. Her mother's meatballs -- fortified with a little brown sugar -- are no exception.
The Rosh Hashana meals help mark one of the most important Jewish observations of the year, a period of repentance leading to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. "It's searching inwardly and trying to improve yourself as a person," said Cohen, who attends services at Temple Beth Tzedek.
Rosh Hashana services are marked by the blowing of shofars, bugles made from ram's horns. On Yom Kippur, "when the final blast of the shofar comes, you are either inscribed for a good year or not a good year," Cohen said, "depending on how sincerely you have tried to make up for the wrongs you have done to other people during the year."
Family feasts mark the holiday, especially the meal after Yom Kippur services, when observant Jews will stop fasting and have their first food and drink in 24 hours or more, Cohen said.
"The break-the-fast meal is a happy time," usually including dairy products but no meat, according to Jewish traditions. "You get invited to people's homes, or you invite a lot of people. You are breaking the fast together, and it's very joyful, because you've finished a period of repentance."
The retired Buffalo schools math teacher was widowed in 1998. She raised three children with Abraham, her husband, former music director for Ken-Ton schools. At times she has gone to Syracuse to celebrate the holiday with her daughter, and the recipes Cohen shares travel well.
Jewish dietary law prohibits serving meat with dairy products like butter or eggs, so the observant pay extra attention to what's included in dishes. Cohen recommended the blueberry cake recipe here for a Yom Kippur breakfast meal, as its rich, buttery batter includes a significant dose of dairy products.
The only recipe represented that her mother wouldn't have made is Cohen's version of tzimmes, a stewed vegetable and fruit dish. Cohen uses carrots as one of the main components, just like her mother did, but includes dried apricots and brightens it with orange juice concentrate.
"My mother made a different kind of tzimmes, just carrots in a sauce -- I never went for it when I was a kid," said Cohen. "But now, this kind of thing I like very much, because of the flavor of the fruits."
Sweet and Sour Meatballs
3 pounds ground beef chuck
2 large onions, diced small or chopped
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce, such as Hunt's
1 small can tomato paste
1/3 cup brown sugar
4 large cloves garlic, minced
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine beef, onion, eggs, bread crumbs, water, salt and pepper. Mix well. Form into large meatballs, place on a large oiled pan and brown in oven, about 15 minutes at 375.
While meat is baking, make the sauce: Mince garlic (or chop it in a small blender with a little tomato sauce). Put garlic, tomato sauce, tomato paste and sugar in a large pot, and bring to a simmer. Add sweet basil if you wish.
Pour sauce carefully over meatballs, and bake for another 40 minutes. Or, move the meatballs into the pot and cook in sauce for another 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5 or 6 carrots, sliced
1 medium sized yam, peeled and cut into 1/2 -inch cubes
1 tablespoon oil
1/4 cup honey or sugar
1/3 cup undiluted orange juice concentrate
6 ounces dried apricots
6 ounces prunes
1 cup fresh or canned pineapple chunks
Put carrot slices and yam chunks into a 2-quart heavy saucepan, with oil and a tablespoon of water. Bring to a boil, lower heat and cover. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add honey or sugar and orange juice concentrate; stir in dried apricots and prunes, and canned or fresh pineapple chunks.
Cook for 15 minutes more. Pour mixture into a bowl and cool. Place in refrigerator overnight and juices will be absorbed.
Cook's note: Tzimmes can be enjoyed hot or cold. It can be reheated in the microwave.
Aunt Bella's Blueberry Cake
3 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cup sugar, divided
1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 to 2 pints blueberries, or other fruit
1 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon
In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and 1 cup sugar.
Set aside 2-3 tablespoons of butter for drizzling. Cut rest into flour, mixing with pastry blender, or briefly in a blender.
In small bowl, beat eggs, milk and vanilla. Add to flour mixture and mix just until blended.
Put half of the batter into greased 9-by-13 pan. Mix remaining batter with blueberries or other fruit, if using. Spread mixture over batter in pan.
In a small bowl, mix 1/3 cup sugar with 1 or 2 teaspoons cinnamon. Sprinkle over batter.
Melt remaining 2-3 tablespoons butter, and drizzle over cake. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.
The cake can be frozen. It is best served warm, or rewarmed in microwave.
Cook's note: You can use any other fruit. With tart fruit, add 1/4 cup sugar to batter.