Apples and Honey at Rosh Hashanah

Sep 6, 2023 | Article, Newsletter

Apples and Honey at Rosh Hashanah

Sep 6, 2023

By: Bill St. John

Apples and honey, honey and apples. L’Shana Tovah tikatevu.

The famous medieval Rabbi Menachem Meiri (1249-1310) explained that food should serve to focus our attention on the day’s agenda or that day’s significance in time. Hence, the custom of eating both apples and honey as food on Rosh Hashanah, not only for their nutritive value but especially because of their value as symbols.Apples and honeyHoney, into which we dip apples is an expression of hope that sweetness will mark the lives of Jews in the coming year. Also, while honey is kosher, the bee, from which it comes, is not. Thus, honey is a sign of sorts that while we may be unworthy or impure, the prayers from our lips might be accepted as pure.

Apples are usually sliced, for several reasons. In Jewish tradition, apples are honored for both their healing power as well as their sweetness (again, on Rosh Hashanah, a presage of sweetness and health as circumstances of a coming year). The Song of Songs (2:3) singles out the specialness of the apple tree among the other trees of the forest, as well as the sweetness of its fruit and its attractive aroma (7:8).

Additionally, it is the custom at Rosh Hashanah to serve a fruit not yet tasted during the past year. It may seem odd to us moderns, but the apple fills that bill perfectly, for in olden times it would have come to harvest at that time of the year and in that season, not before. (Year-round apple having is a very modern phenom.)

In its way, too, honey is a “September food,” a food not tasted earlier during the year. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Jewish New Year is also the finish line for the bees’ year of work. The honey that these buzzing bits of business have made is now available to those who celebrate important holidays with it.

Also, at Rosh Hashanah, the first piece of broken challah is allowed to be dipped or dabbed in honey, rather than salt (as at all other times of the year, for example on each Friday’s Shabbat), a symbol of the hope that sweetness, not bitterness or “tears” (salt), will enter the lives of Jews in the coming year.

The Apple

When it comes to apples, the numbers are impressive.

Somewhere near 8,000 varieties of apples now grow all over the globe. Apples grew wild as long back as the genus Homo did, millions of years ago. They are among the most diverse of living things. Science is closing in on the number of genes in the apple genome, around 50,000 against a mere 25,000 or so for the human.


As a food, we attend to the apple mainly as either a treat or a sweet, eating apples raw out of hand, or as a refreshing accompaniment to other foods such as cheese, and baking them into any number of confections or desserts—the iconic American pie, for example, or its equivalent, the French Tarte Tatin, the recipe here.

We forget the many uses of apples in our other cooking, over and above baking and dessert-making. A pot of red cabbage and onions close to requires some apple in it. Bits of apples are delicious in baked beans, cream-based soups, and many a hash; or cooked alongside potatoes or parsnips or cauliflower (or all three) in a mash. And what a lift some chopped apple gives a tuna or chicken salad, yes? Cue the Waldorf, too, for sure.

Apple Facts

  • As a plant, apples are a member of the rose family, Rosaceae.
  • The crabapple is the only apple native to North America.
  • It takes the energy from 50 leaves to produce one apple.
  • Apples are one-quarter air. That’s why they bob.
  • Two-thirds of the fiber and many antioxidants are found in the peel of an apple.
  • Apples are the second most valuable fruit grown in the United States. Oranges are first.
  • Apples are grown in all 50 states, although because apple trees require cold each winter, warmer states such as Florida and Texas do not produce commercial crops.
  • The globe’s top apple producers are, in order, China, the United States, Poland, Italy and France.
  • Only 5-6 percent of apples eaten in this country come from other countries such as New Zealand and Chile.
  • Depending on the total volume of the harvest, between 40-60 percent of each year’s U.S. apple crop is processed into apple juice and cider, applesauce, apple butter, dried apples and other apple-derived foods such as baby food or apple cider vinegar.
  • Washington State is by far the largest producing state in the country. It grows over half of all U.S. apples.
  • The top five apple varieties grown in the U.S. are, in order: Gala, Red Delicious, Fuji, Honeycrisp and Granny Smith.
  • The most ascendant variety of apple in the U.S. is Cripps Pink (also known as Pink Lady).


Bees are the only insect that makes a food—honey—eaten by humans. And they have been doing it for 20 million years, 18 to 19 million years longer than we’ve been eating it.

Flowers and other blossoming plants have glands that produce sugary nectar. Worker bees suck up the nectar and water and store it in a special honey stomach. When the stomach is full the bee returns to the hive and puts the nectar in an empty honeycomb. Natural chemicals from the bee’s head glands and the evaporation of the water from the nectar change the nectar into honey.

In cooking, because of its higher fructose content (and stronger “sweet” taste), honey is not a 1-to-1 substitute for granulated sugar in recipes. Also, honey doesn’t substitute where sugar granules are a necessary factor; for instance, in whipping egg whites.

Store honey at room temperature and away from light and it will last indefinitely. As long as it is sealed, honey will never spoil, oxidize or mold—ever. Added to water, it will ferment very, very slowly and then we have honey wine, or mead.


Honey crystallizes naturally (especially at cold temperatures). In fact, whipped, crystallized honey (also called creamed honey) is preferred in Europe over our free-running honey.

Honey is not mere food, it is also good medicine. Unlike plain sugar, it contains small amounts of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, not to say more flavor. Research centered in New Zealand illustrates the way honey helps heal skin wounds (something known to the ancients, only recently rediscovered by us). It is a natural humectant (it attracts and absorbs water), hence it deprives bacteria of an ideal environment.

Honey Facts

  • Honey is 80 percent sugars and 20 percent water.
  • Honey is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including water.
  • Out of 20,000 species of bees, only 4 make honey.
  • To make just one pound of honey, the bees in the colony must visit 2 million flowers and fly over 55,000 miles. One pound of honey is the lifetime work of 768 bees.
  • A typical beehive can make up to 400 pounds of honey per year.
  • Bees produce honey as food stores for the hive during the long months of winter when flowers aren’t blooming and therefore little or no nectar is available to them.
  • Honeybees’ wings stroke 11,400 times per minute, thus making their distinctive buzz.
  • A queen honeybee lives, on average, 18 months. A worker honeybee, 15-40 days in the summer and 150-200 days in wintertime.
  • Although the Bible describes Israel as a land flowing with “milk and honey,” the Torah refers to a paste made of overripe dates, raisins, figs or carob beans, not specifically honey from a hive.

The Tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin takes its name from the Hotel Tatin in the Loire Valley southwest of Paris—and from a mistake. It’s one of those foods, such as Worcestershire sauce, that wouldn’t exist had it not first been (in this instance, in every respect) a flop.

The story goes that, back in the 1880s, while making standard crust-topped apple pie desserts, one of the Tatin sisters who ran the hotel dropped a pie in a rush, then quickly reassembled it with the remaining crust on the bottom and the apples on top. As is said in the Loire Valley southwest of Paris, “Voila!”

Apple-Honey Tarte Tatin

For Tarte Tatin, choose apples that do not break down under nearly an hour of significant heat: Braeburns, Jonagolds, or Granny Smiths work well.

Some Tarte Tatins are very precious in their fanciness, dozens of thin slices of apples curlicued on top of a pie or shortcrust. The classic, adapted here with some Rosh Hashanah honey as the only curlicue, is much simpler: caramelized chunks of apples baked in a pan, with the crust on top, then flipped and inverted when done. For this purpose, puff pastry is even better and tastier than simple pie crust, although either works well. And it’s way OK to use store-bought or frozen crusts.

RECIPE: Apple-Honey Tarte Tatin

Bill St. John notes: “Over the years, I’ve worked this recipe thanks to prior Tatins by New Yorkers Ron Paprocki (Gotham Restaurant) and Julie Moskin (The New York Times). For Rosh Hashanah, I’ve subbed honey for granulated cane sugar and, for Coloradans, tempered the recipe to our higher elevation.” Makes 1 tarte.


  • 8 large firm-fleshed semi-tart apples
  • 7 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted, softened or at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup mild honey (for example, tupelo, palmetto, clover or acaia)
  • 1 sheet all-butter puff pastry, about 8 ounces


In order to avoid excess moisture later in the recipe, prepare the apples at least one day in advance (even better, 2-3 days). Slice off the bottom of each apple so that it has a flat base. Peel half the apples, then quarter all of them, cutting down through the poles. Trim both the seeds and the hard core matter from the center of each quarter.

Lay out the apple quarters on a large, parchment paper-covered tray or baking sheet. Cover them loosely with paper toweling and put them in the refrigerator. The cut sides will brown slightly but pay that no mind.

When ready to assemble the tarte, heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, gently mix together the softened butter and honey into a paste. Liberally coat the bottom of a 10-inch heavy ovenproof pan or skillet, preferably nonstick (seasoned cast iron is ideal), slathering the butter-honey paste all around the bottom so that it hides any metal. Find a bowl or plate the diameter of the skillet and set it aside.

Take one of the apple quarters and make it round by trimming it at both ends. It will be the “button” at the center of the tarte; place it there. Now, arrange the remaining apple quarters, evenly dividing the arrangement between the peeled and unpeeled apples, each quarter standing on its flat side, in circles around the “button.” Place the quarters as close to each other as you can, like flower petals, so that they support each other upright.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry dough to about 1/8-inch thick. Place the reserved bowl or plate on top of the dough and, using the tip of a sharp knife, cut out a round. Gently lift the dough round and drape it over the apples, tucking it in around the edge.

Over medium heat, cook the tarte until golden-brown juice bubbles around the edge. (If the juices keep rising, spoon it out so that the bubbling juices are just at the edge of the dough. That merely means that the apple quarters did not dry out sufficiently.) Keep cooking, adjusting the heat, if necessary, until the juices begin to turn a bit darker brown and smell like caramel, about 10 minutes at most.


Place the pan or skillet in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the pastry browns nicely. Let the tarte cool for 5 minutes only, then carefully flip it (using a large serving plate or baking sheet atop the pan and tarte), dough side down, apples up, minding any hot caramel that might ooze or spill out. If any apples stick to the pan, they are easily removed and replaced into the tarte while it is warm.


Serve, cut into wedges, slightly warm or at room temperature, topped with crème fraiche, ice cream, Greek yogurt, or very heavy cream.