Dating back to ancient times, this symbolic food combination carries great significance.

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assortment of apples on linen cloth with pot of honey, walnuts, and cinnamon sticks
Credit: Courtesy of REDA&CO/Getty

In the Jewish religion, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are considered the "High Holy Days." Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a two-day holiday (yom tov) starting on the first day of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, during September or October. It also kicks off a 10-day stretch of introspection, bookended by Yom Kippur, the most somber of holidays, called the Day of Atonement. Rosh Hashanah, however, is a joyous occasion, and families all over the globe celebrate the new year with an elaborate dinner or seder. But first, many Rosh Hashanah foods with symbolic meaning, known as simanim, make their appearance, all laid out on the table, and are presented, one by one. Taking center stage: apples and honey

Symbolic and Sweet

"On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, after eating challah dipped in honey, it is customary to eat several foods which symbolize our desire for a sweet year, starting with a slice of apple dipped in honey," says Chanie Apfelbaum, author of the innovative book Millennial Kosher: Recipes Reinvented for the Modern Palate ($32.96, amazon.com) and the founder of the kosher food blog Busy in Brooklyn. (Challah, by the way, is a sweet, eggy bread, usually eaten on the Jewish sabbath (shabbat) and for Rosh Hashanah it is baked in a round shape, denoting the cyclical nature of life and blessings without end).

The apple also represents Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) which had the fragrance of an apple orchard. As with each of simanim, before eating the apples and honey, celebrants recite the appropriate blessing. In this instance, they give thanks for the fruit of the tree, and wish for a good and sweet year, Apfelbaum explains. 

A Perfect Pairing

When it comes to choosing apples for the occasion, there are no real rules. "Any apple works!" says Apfelbaum, who turns the tradition into something of a tasting flight when hosting her dinners. "I actually put out a variety of apples and an assortment of honeys for my guests to try," she says. 

And the simanim also turn up in some of her other festive holiday dishes, reinforcing the symbolism, including a honey-roasted za'atar chicken with dried fruit and a roast braised with Lady apples. Both are delicious ways to welcome the Jewish New Year.

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