“I’m making an apple cake this year,” my mom declares practically every year before Rosh Hashanah, “Nobody likes honey cake anyway.” Honey, often referenced in ancient texts, including the ubiquitous reference to Israel as the land of milk and honey, is used in a variety of Rosh Hashanah recipes to symbolize a sweet new year. We dip our apples in honey, our challah in honey, and our shelves seem to be fully stocked with bear-shaped honey jars throughout the season.
Honey cake is the Jewish equivalent of fruitcake on Christmas — you have it on the table just because it’s supposed to be there, even though nobody really likes it (my apologies to those who do like it; I’ve never met one of you). I have never found a good reason for why the “traditional” honey cake must be served on Rosh Hashanah (what, just because it’s made with honey?). But even so, most people would agree that honey cake is a must (or, like a blog in The Guardian put it, “almost obligatory”), for honey is a natural sweetener that brings us back to the days of old — our ancestors may not have had Splenda or refined sugar, but they most definitely had honey.
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