Pleasures Fit for a Queen (or a Jewish Princess)
by Norene Gilletz
This article originally
appeared in the Orthodox Union's weekly e-newsletter, Shabbat Shalom (www.ou.org/shabbat)
The quest for a recipe for Mohnlach began several weeks ago with a phone call
from my mother’s cousin Roy. “Norene, maybe you can help me? I keep thinking
about the poppy seed candy my mother used to make for Purim when I was a little
boy. I thought if anyone would have the recipe, you would. I remember that she
cut it in diamond shapes and that it was very sweet. I loved it.”
I was instantly flooded with warm, delicious food memories from my childhood.
I vividly remembered my grandmother’s old-fashioned kitchen, her wood stove
and the wonderful aromas that emanated from it. I can still picture her patting
out the sticky honey and poppy seed mixture on a wet cutting board on her dining
room table. I would stand on my tiptoes, peering over the table top, eagerly
waiting for the candy to get hard so I could taste a little piece.
I hadn’t thought of this scrumptious candy in years and told Roy that I
wasn’t exactly sure how to make it….but I would find out.
Mom to the rescue! My mother is my personal culinary consultant as she has
the most incredible memory for food and recipes. She defines most life
experiences in terms of food and eating. I asked her if she remembered the
recipe for poppy seed candy. “Of course I remember it!” she replied. “I
used to make it for Purim, both your babas made it, your Auntie Lily made it, so
did my friend Bessie…everybody made it!”
She remembered the basic ingredients – honey, poppy seeds and nuts, but she
wasn’t sure of the exact quantities. We started searching through my huge
cookbook collection in search of the right recipe. We checked cookbook after
cookbook, but no luck!
It wasn’t until I pulled out my very oldest cookbooks that I finally found
two recipes. Both books were published in the late fifties – tattered, torn
and food-stained, but true treasures. One recipe was in Jennie Grossinger’s
cookbook, “The Art of Jewish Cooking” with a price tag of 60 cents. The
other was in Molly Goldberg’s Jewish Cookbook, price 75 cents. A bargain at
today’s prices! Jennie’s recipe called for ground poppy seeds, Molly’s
My mother, the maven, insisted that the poppy seeds had to be ground, or the
candy would be too gritty. She said that the best way to grind them was to soak
them overnight in warm water, then boil them in milk and then grind them in a
poppy seed grinder. I told her that I wanted the recipe to be pareve. I also
said that I lost my special poppy seed grinder years ago and had never replaced
it. It was time for us to be creative and find alternative solutions.
I knew that my food processor, blender and electric coffee grinder wouldn’t
pulverize the seeds properly, so I pulled out my electric mini-chop, which has a
grind cycle. I alternated between grinding and chopping the poppy seeds, putting
the whirling blades into forward gear, then reverse. It took about 2 or 3
minutes – and it worked. The results weren’t as perfect as I had hoped, but
it did the trick.
I suggested to my mother that we should invite Roy and Elsie over for tea and
serve them the Mohnlach. My mother jokingly replied, “Don’t bother. He
probably won’t be able to eat them any more – he’d break his teeth!”
Here is Jennie Grossinger’s recipe, with my comments in parentheses. Enjoy!
POPPY SEED CANDY
1 pound poppy seeds
2 cups honey
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups chopped nuts
1/2 tsp. powdered ginger, optional (my mother’s mother made them with ginger
Have the poppy seeds ground for you when you buy them. If this is not
possible, grind them in a food chopper or pound them with a mortar and pestle.
Cook together the honey and sugar until syrupy. (Be sure to use a big enough
pot and that it is heavy enough or the mixture will boil over when you add the
Stir in the poppy seeds and cook until mixture is thick, about 20 minutes.
Stir frequently. (Watch carefully the last few minutes or the mixture may burn!)
Drop a little on a wet surface; if it doesn’t run, it’s thick enough. Stir
in the nuts and ginger.
Moisten hands; pat out mixture onto wet board to thickness of about 1/2 inch.
Let cool 5 minutes (maybe longer!), then cut into diamonds or squares with a
sharp knife. When knife sticks, dip into hot water. Cool completely and lift
from board with a spatula.
* * *
While searching through my cookbooks, I thought about the various symbolic
foods served on Purim, such as poppy seeds, hamentashen and triangular-shaped
foods. Poppy seeds are symbolic of Queen Esther’s three day fast in the
palace, where she followed a vegetarian diet to avoid breaking Kosher dietary
laws. When she broke her fast at night, she ate only seeds while she prayed to
G-d to repeal Haman’s decree.
Triangular-shaped foods such as cheese kreplach or challah shaped like a
giant triangle, sprinkled with poppy seeds are other symbolic foods served by
Ashkenaz Jews. Sephardic Jews serve Haman’s Ears – deep-fried strips of
dough or kichel dipped in sugar syrup or sprinkled with icing sugar.
This year, why not make
poppy seed cookies cut in triangular shapes? A fluted
pastry wheel will make them look so pretty! This dough can also be used to make
traditional hamentashen. These easy, versatile cookies are fun to make with the