April 18, 2024
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A Purim Lament: In Search of Poppy-Seed Hamantashen

It’s been going on for years in Teaneck: a dastardly conspiracy to prevent me from consuming at least one large pastry dough poppy seed hamantashen to properly celebrate Purim. March comes around, Adar Aleph, sometimes Adar Bet, and this classic Purim culinary treasure, this classic hamantashen, so delicious with a cold glass of milk, is nowhere to be found! Of course, during this festive time, local bakeries are baking enormous quantities of small, wheat-flour-cookie-dough hamantashen made with all sorts of fillings, fruits, preserves, nuts etc. But, the poppy seed–filled variety seems to have fallen on hard times.

In actuality, one would think that this “original” would be increasing in popularity. After all, its contents are derived from the poppy plant that produces in its seedpod and stalks the well-known opiates morphine, codeine and cocaine. While the poppy seed itself doesn’t contain a drug-level content of these opiates, its use is outlawed in some countries because its ingestion causes some to fail drug tests. Poppy-seed bagels and muffins are known to give these false positives, but I haven’t personally heard of anyone carrying a pastry-dough poppy-seed hamantashen in his luggage being stopped by the authorities at the Canadian or Mexican borders.

I have confronted the local kosher bakery in Teaneck often in the last several years about the need to produce pastry-dough, poppy -seed hamantashen at this time of year. The responses I’ve received fall into two categories:

“We had them briefly last week, but we ran out.” (It’s two days before Purim, so why don’t you bake some more?)

“People really don’t like mohn (German/Yiddish for poppy seed) very much; the other varieties are much more popular.” (Infuriating! You can serve chulent without potatoes and call it chulent, but it isn’t chulent; similarly, hamantashen have the word “mohn” in their name, so you shouldn’t be permitted to delete the poppy seeds and still call it hamantashen!)

I’m fed up with receiving boxes of hamantashen for Purim shalach manot and having to sift through them for hours to locate a single poppy-seed variant. The bakery industry of course long ago recognized that the black poppy-seed fillings made for a nice contrast with the lighter-colored dough, so they came up with a substitute dark filling to confuse the poppy-seed lovers, namely, prunes. How many of us, unsure what the filling is, bite into what we hope is a poppy-seed hamantashen only to discover we’ve bitten into a prune-filled one or a date-filled one? I don’t know about you, but that drives me crazy. Did they actually think that we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference! (Apricot- and raspberry-filled varieties offend me less, because those fillings can be traced to ancient times.)

What is clearly needed is some sort of pledge on the part of our bakeries to promote the reconsumption of poppy-seed hamantashen, to return it to its primacy among fillings. If they fail to act, much to my dismay, I will feel compelled to organize a boycott of those establishments that fail to act until such time as they produce adequate supplies of poppy-seed hamantashen. In this connection, I would like your input on whether you would support such a boycott. Please contact me with your comments at [email protected].

By Joseph Rotenberg

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