This Year in Your Home: A Farm-to-Table Seder

We launched Fig Tree & Vine exactly one year ago with a Passover theme, “A Mid-Century Modern Seder.” Then as now, one of our main goals at FT&V is to discover and promote new ways to celebrate traditional holidays.

Passover in particular seems hostage to outdated folkways. The heavy burden of complex religious rules fossilizes families into rituals that aren’t required by any rule at all – and that can interfere with the holy day’s potential for meaning and joy. Exhausted by panic over the meal, and the placement of the bitter herbs, and the ritual wine, a family can subside into rote reading of the Exodus story from worn Haggadahs; the same bottled gefilte fish, and faded Seder linens.

There’s no commandment that a Seder must follow an unvarying pattern. No law prescribes that the menu must consist of Polish specialties from the 1930s. If you’ve ever honored the promise, “Next year in Jerusalem,” you know that an Israeli Seder is completely different from our North American practice: better food, louder singing, and generally more celebratory in spirit.

We can’t import the Israeli attitude, of course, but we can re-think our holiday habits. Sometimes we are even forced to rethink them, as we are when small children join the table.

When my children were little, my husband and I realized that they would never endure a lengthy ceremony sitting still in their chairs – and that we’d only ruin the evening for everyone else if we tried to force them. So we adapted the Seder to them. We re-enacted the Ten Plagues with plastic farm animals, rubber flies and frogs. We dabbed our faces with makeup to recreate boils and threw crushed ice in place of hail. The highlight moment: My husband would secretly treat a stick (“staff”) with red food dye, immerse it in a bowl of water, and – shazzam! – the Nile would run with blood.

And – shazzam again – we discovered that telling the Passover story in ways to enthrall and delight two- and three-year-olds rejuvenated the annual ritual for everybody. Grandparents enjoyed the live-action Seder as much as the grandchildren. Over the years we have continued to innovate and experiment. One year, somewhat older children and their cousins enacted the story as a play, culminating in a grand chariot chase across the back yard, a la Cecil B. DeMille. More recently, we challenged guests to narrate the story of Exodus in Twitter-like sentences (no more than 140 characters). As in, @pharoah #letmypeoplego.

However you choose to celebrate, FT&V hopes to inspire you with new ideas and products: fresh menus, fresh tableware, and fresh ideas. This year our Passover theme is “A Farm-to-Table Seder,” celebrating the spring vegetables now arriving in the markets. We appreciate, too, how much work goes into creating a Seder to remember – and we’d like to lift some of the burden and relieve some of the stress.

It’s going to be a lousy party if I am already tense and exhausted before the first guest arrives. So much better if I am ready to greet family, drink in hand, with a finished meal resting happily in a warm oven. For this reason among many, I love the recipes of celebrity cookbook author Paula Shoyer. Shoyer’s recipes produce delicious results without difficult prep work. For FT&V, Paula will share a seasonal Seder dinner from her book The New Passover Menu. Next week, I’ll post a 101 Checklist for those of you hosting Seder for the first time – and a menu planner so you can start making the meal in stages beforehand. We’ll also roll out simple, tasty Passover-friendly recipes to cook on following days.

Here’s the first of those easy approaches to kosher for Passover: a delicious, vegetarian twist on Shepherd’s Pie. The recipe comes from the newly released Jewish Food Hero Cookbook: 50 Simple Plant-Based Recipes for Your Holiday Meals, by Kenden Alfond. If you haven’t visited Kenden’s Jewish Food Hero site, I urge you to go. It’s a beautifully designed resource for healthier food for Jewish living.