Tu B'Shvat Seder: The Birthday of the Tree

Tu B'Shvat is a holiday that occurs in late January/early February and is a celebration of the tree. According to the Jewish Bible, this day was thought of as the birthday of the tree and was used to demarcate a new fiscal year. Tu B'Shvat lends itself well to kids, providing them with an opportunity to eat dried fruit and draw pictures of trees and fruits and berries. But in the past decade or so, environmentalists have appropriated Tu B'Shvat as a great way to recognize a long tradition among Jews to connect to the land, and to honor nature.

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Over a decade ago, a friend in San Francisco got me hooked on the idea of using a seder to tell stories, sing, and to ritualize the eating of fruits, nuts and berries and the drinking of wine.

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I've been hosting them every year since. The ritual includes eating fruits and nuts in four successive categories:

• Inedible skin and edible core
• Edible exterior and inedible inner core
• Edible throughout
• A new fruit

These four categories correspond to four glasses of wine that grow progressively darker from white to red over the course of the evening. I like to have everyone seated on cushions on my living room floor, and then I lay out dozens of small bowls and plates full of yummy stuff to ritualize. The only hard part for me is that I am forced to buy most of these fruits out of season as winters in NYC are not exactly a local source of abundance.

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I try to make one warm fruit based dish and I always provide a lot of cheese and crackers so that there are things to snack on that are ritual-free. The warm dish is usually slices of grilled persimmons with a balsamic reduction and goat cheese but this year persimmons were nowhere to be found. I made an apple chutney instead.

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It's fun to fill my house with such abundance. And it's so great to spend an evening elevating my modus operandi to a spiritual place. Cherishing and connecting to the food's source, recognizing the fragility, but also the great resilience of nature, eating great healthy snacks, and enjoying what happens when all sorts of disparate friends come together for an evening of ritual and reflection.

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(Images: Jill Slater)

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