Tu B’ Shevat, the Jewish holiday celebrating the New Year of the Trees, is something I fondly anticipate each year in the midst of winter. As a child growing up in Northern California we always held our Tu B’shevat seder outside on the grass and then planted new trees in the back yard. The first bulbs of spring would be beginning to bloom and it was the perfect time of year to plant new trees. While it is a bit harder to feel that kind of tangible connection when in much of the country it is still the heart of winter, it is still wonderful to celebrate planting and trees and a time when the earth will be blooming again.
On Tu B’Shevat, it is traditional not only to plant trees but also to eat food from the seven species mentioned in Deuteronomy (wheat, barley, olives, pomegranate, figs, dates and grapes). Although they are not mentioned in the same verse, almonds also have a special significance for the holiday because they are one of the first trees to bloom in the spring in Israel and they have the symbolism of fertility and rebirth While I like eating all the different fruits and nuts commonly served at a Tu B’Shevat seder, I have to admit I like to dress them up and bit and turn them into more of a sweet treat.
One of my favorite things to serve on Tu B’shevat is almond filled dates. These almond stuffed dates are a common Middle Eastern sweet. A bit of sweetened almond paste is stuffed into a date and then topped with a whole almond. The soft sweetness of the date complements the almond flavor perfectly and the crunch of the whole almond brings it all together. These are extremely quick and easy to put together, but seem much more elegant than a simple dried fruit plate.
Another fun way to incorporate almonds into a Tu B’shevat menu is these almond linzer cookies. Many people have a tradition of making etrog preserves after Sukkot and saving them to eat on Tu B’shevat. Following that tradition I filled these almond linzer cookies with etrog preserves. It is said that eating etrog brings the blessing of fertility so if that isn’t what you are looking for, or you simply don’t have any etrog preserves in the house, feel free to use any other good quality jam or preserves.
My favorite Tu B’shevat treat, however, are these pomegranate and fig filled almond macarons. These are not the heavy coconut macarons of Passover. They are delicate almond confections filled with either pomegranate ganache or honey fig jam. They are a bit more involved than the other recipes but in my mind the results are worth it. They may seem intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of making the macarons they are not so hard to make. I use the Italian Meringue method which seems to be a bit more reliable than the French Meringue method. Precision does matter when making macarons so I highly recommend measuring by weight. I have to admit the process of making them is a bit addictive. You may find yourself making them again and again.
No matter if Tu B’Shevat brings great weather or snow, these treats are sure to bring the sweetness of spring to any Tu B’shevat table.