Hamantaschen not just a Purim nosh anymore

NEW YORK — First it was bagels. Then rugelach. What's the next Jewish food to go mainstream?

Could be hamantaschen.

Hamantaschen now can be seen next to mini bundt cakes and lemon poppy-seed muffins in the display case of your local coffee shop. They're even on the warehouse shelves of Costco.

Several large supermarket chains now carry them, and it's no longer something they bring in just around Purim time. The triangular pastries — shaped to reflect the three-cornered hat of Purim villain Haman — increasingly are being sold year-round.

"It's a staple," says Chris Calfa, who manages a small gourmet food store in New York.

He carries them throughout the year and says he sells approximately a dozen a day.

"They're definitely more popular than they used to be," says Rennee Apostolou, who manages Prolific Oven, a bakery and coffee shop in Palo Alto.

While the shop used to sell hamantaschen only at Purim, about five years ago it began offering them year round because of customer demand. People treat them just like any other cookie, Apostolou said.

"We fill ours with figs, so to them it's like a Fig Newton," she says.

In Yiddish, the word "hamantaschen" means "Haman's pockets." According to "The Jewish Book of Why," the name refers to Haman stuffing his pockets with bribe money. The cookies are folded to form a pocket that is usually filled with poppy seeds, fruits, jam or nuts.

In Hebrew, the cookies are called "oznay Haman," or "Haman's ears."

Many people apparently do not know that the cookies are connected with a specific Jewish holiday. Calfa, for example, was surprised to learn that hamantaschen are connected with Purim.

"I had no idea," he says.

Tish Boyle, food editor of Pastry Art and Design Magazine, said she thinks the increasing popularity of hamantaschen is due not only to new interest among non-Jews, but also among Jews who are no longer religious.

"They recognize the shape and are willing to buy it for nostalgic reasons," she says. "It's like comfort food."

She also thinks non-Jewish bakeries may be making them because they're easier to prepare than many other pastries. They're like little pies, but "you don't have to use a pie tin."

Joan Nathan, cookbook author and host of the weekly PBS program "Jewish Cooking in America," says the popularization of hamantaschen has stripped them of their cultural meaning.

The new year-round availability of hamantaschen is "like getting challah all days of the week," she says. "I don't want to get challah all days of the week. I want it on Saturday."

Among the stores where hamantaschen have gone mainstream is Costco, which gets its bulk supplies from David's Cookies.

"Costco just got 140,000 pounds," says John Griner, the plant manager of David's Cookies, which manufactures more than 6 million hamantaschen a year.

The company sells most of its hamantaschen to large supermarket chains and wholesale clubs.

Bob Goodman, who markets David's Cookies to major supermarket chains, says groceries started carrying hamantaschen to appeal to Jewish clients, but discovered that they appeal to non-Jews as well.

"One of our supermarket chains ordered about 14,000 packages in the past seven weeks. I can't imagine that's all for Jewish people," he said. "You don't have to be Italian to like pasta sauce."

Many stores don't even call the cookies hamantaschen.

"In New England, they call them 'patriot hats,'" Goodman said.

Jim Dolan, a vice president for retail sales for David's Cookies, says his company markets hamantaschen not as a Jewish product, but as a variation of the chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies that David's Cookies also makes.

That's because the company's products weren't kosher when David's Cookies first opened in 1979.

Ari Margulies, an Orthodox Jew, bought the company in 1995 and made all of the cookies kosher.