Savor summer with the festival of fruits

As the third harvest holiday of the Jewish year, Shavuot ends the seven-week counting of the Omer, which began with the second day of Passover. Shavuot is also known as Chag Habikurim (festival of fruits) and Chag Hashavuot (festival of weeks).

For us in California, it also falls at the beginning of the summer fruit season. We are fortunate to live so close to cherry, apricot, plum, peach and nectarine orchards.

Less than 75 miles away, the town of Brentwood is home to more than 30 family-owned farms that allow people to come and pick fruit. Information is available at

We often observe Shavuot by staying up very late. Although we don’t study Torah, our experience is also bonding and spiritual nonetheless, as we pit and can the pounds of cherries we harvested in Brentwood.

We also observe the custom of enjoying dairy dishes to celebrate the land of milk and honey and the laws of kashrut, which were given to us at this time. Israelis love eggplant, and eggplant sandwiches combine the earthy vegetable with fresh mozzarella. The super fast cheese puffs provide a quick snack using staples most of us usually have in the kitchen.

Brandied cherries are a delicious treat served warm over vanilla ice cream. Cherry pitters are very helpful kitchen gadget, available at kitchen stores.

Remember, with cherries the motto is “Pit now or spit later!”

Brandied Cherries | Makes 3 quarts

4 pounds cherries, pitted and stemmed (optional)
12 small cinnamon sticks
1 1/2 cups water
3 cups sugar
6 cloves
3 cups brandy
Pack the cherries as tightly as possible into clean, dry jars. Add some cinnamon sticks to each jar.
Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring gently to a boil, stirring constantly until the sugar melts, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, until a thin syrup forms. Add the cloves and brandy. Simmer for 5 minutes, remove from the heat, and allow to cool.
Pour the cooled syrup over the cherries, filling the jars to within 1/2 inch of the rims. Wipe the rims with a damp cloth, cover with the lids and process for 30 minutes in a hot water bath. Remove the jars from the water, allow to cool overnight and store in a cool, dark place. Alternatively, you may refrigerate the brandied cherries for up to 3 months.

Roasted Eggplant and Mozzarella Sandwiches | Makes 8

2 medium eggplant, sliced into 16 rounds
coarse sea salt
4 Tbs. olive oil
8 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into 8 slices
2 Tbs. chopped basil
2 Tbs. chopped flat leaf parsley
1 tsp. ground pepper
Sprinkle the eggplant slices with coarse salt and drain for 1 hour.
Rinse and pat the eggplant slices dry with paper towels. Brush the eggplant on both sides with the olive oil, place on a baking sheet, and bake in a 375-degree oven until soft, about 30 minutes.
Top each eggplant round with a slice of mozzarella, sprinkle with the basil, parsley and ground pepper, and place another round of eggplant on top.
Just before serving, bake in a 350-degree oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese melts. Serve warm.

Super Fast Cheese Puffs | Makes 36

4 oz. unsalted butter
6 oz. shredded cheese
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp. fine salt
1/2 tsp. paprika
Cream the butter and cheese. Add the dry ingredients and combine until dough holds together.
Shape the dough into 1-inch balls. Place on prepared baking sheet and bake 15 to 20 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven.

Rebecca Ets-Hokin is a certified culinary professional. Visit her Web site at She can be reached at [email protected].