The Jerusalem Post

Looking at the whole picture - from planting to eating

Cinammon and raisin challah (photo credit: PIXABAY)
Cinammon and raisin challah
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

They say we all have wisdom in hindsight after we have experienced the process from its inception to its culmination.

A group of city folk went touring the countryside and stopped off in a quaint little farming village. After lunch they went exploring.
They saw a man in the supply store purchasing 100 sacks of wheat kernels in exchange for a huge wad of cash he took from his pocket. He hoisted the heavy sacks into his horse-drawn cart and trundled off down the road. Curious to see what he was going to do with all those kernels (perhaps his wife loved wheat kernel salad), they decided to follow him.
The man and cart reached a large open patch of sandy land and were met by a group of 20 young men. Each muscle-bound youth hoisted a sack on his shoulder and then in 20 parallel lines they walked across the sand burying the kernels as they went. Why would they do that, the city folk wondered, spend all that hard-earned cash just to bury all those kernels in the dirt? Oh well, the eccentricities of country folk, they thought to themselves.
Eight months later, another group of tourists from the big city were visiting the same village and they saw a very strange sight. Hundreds of men, women and children had gathered in the village square whose flagstone floor was covered with a thick layer of what looked like junk: stalks, seeds, hay and the like. The villagers each took baskets full of this potpourri and threw it up in the air repeatedly. As they did so, the wind blew all the stalks and the other junk away, while all the seeds fell back to the ground.
They then collected up all the seeds into sacks, loaded them up into horse-drawn carts and walked in a procession down the road. They must love wheat kernel salad in this village, the city folk thought as they followed curiously.
The troupe arrived at an old building with a huge water wheel, slowly turning in the gentle current of the stream. The villagers took the sacks of kernels into the building where they emptied each sack onto a set of huge rotating stones that pulverized the kernels into what looked exactly the same as the stuff they had seen on the village square floor. Why would they waste good kernels like that, the visitors wondered. Crazy hillbillies!
After a couple of weeks, more guests came to the village, city dwellers all. As they were walking off their lunch, they happened by a cottage. Through the window they saw a stalwart lady take a few scoops full of some mealy looking stuff from a sack which she threw into a bowl. She then doused that with a jug of water and then she began to pound it incessantly.
With the sweat running down her cheeks, it looked like the woman was getting a real good workout, until she finally took a break, went to her rocking chair for a spell and then returned to the bowl, the contents of which she gave a vicious jab. She then took a round, cushion-looking lump from the bowl and tossed it into the fire in the oven. How quaint, the hipsters said. This must be the country version of a gym and sauna!
Seriously though, if you had a wad of hard-earned cash that you decided to spend on a string of expensive pearls, would you then take those same pearls and go bury them in the dirt in your back yard at two-inch intervals? What kind of idiot would do that?
If you had just spent two hours sweeping your house, would you scoop up all the dirt and bric-a-brac and then toss it all into the liquidizer in your kitchen just to make finer dirt? Would you then take that new, fine dirt, slosh it with water and then take out all your frustrations on the mixture for almost 20 minutes and then, if that weren’t enough, give it the final knockout punch just before tossing it into the fireplace? There is strange, and there is strange!
The problem with all the visitors to this village is first that they were city folk, the kind who think that chickens grow in plastic bags on the supermarket shelf, already portioned out. They did not understand what they were seeing. Second, they only saw the goings-on in slices of time. They were not there to witness the entire process beginning to end.
A month after the farmer had buried the 100 sacks of seeds in the dirt, it began to rain. The wheat kernels sprouted and grew into a huge field of wheat from which he harvested thousands of bushels. The villagers took these sheaves to the village square where they winnowed them, separating the wheat from the chaff and collecting up 1,000 sacks of wheat kernels. They then took these kernels to the mill where they were ground into flour which fed the entire village for the coming year.
The women-folk would mix the flour and water, knead it, punch it down after it had risen, shape it and then put it in the oven to bake, and the result was a delicious loaf of bread.
They say we all have wisdom in hindsight after we have experienced the process from its inception to its culmination. Very few of us have this privilege, and if we do, it is only after we attain a ripe old age. Mostly we stumble through life in time slices, not understanding what we are seeing, unable to connect the dots, being bewildered by our perception of the current reality. We encounter what appears to us as hardship, strife, tragedy, loss and we question, oh boy do we question! Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?
Rosh Hashanah
is a time of reflection on the year that was and the year that is to come. What a year it has been! Who knows what the coming year heralds? We need to have the humility to admit that we are only seeing a slice in time, that we do not fully understand how it fits in the bigger scheme of things, but that it is undoubtedly necessary.
Only when we are able to see the entire picture can we realize that it was necessary to plant those seeds, pulverize them into flour, knead that dough, give it one last vigorous punch and toss it into the hot fiery oven – because that is the only way you get a perfect loaf of bread.
2¾ cups of flour
¾ cup of water
1 egg (size L)
1½ tsp. salt
1½ instant dry yeast
½ cup sugar
1 Tbsp. oil
Mix and knead dough for 10 minutes by hand (7 minutes in the mixer). Leave to rise for one hour. Punch down and roll with rolling pin into a flat rectangle, about 30cm by 15cm. With a spray gun spray the surface of the dough (or use a basting brush to baste the surface) with water. Sprinkle the entire surface of the dough lightly with cinnamon.
Spread 1½ cups of raisins uniformly over the cinnamon. With the longer side facing you, begin rolling up the dough into a kind of “jelly” roll.
With the seam underneath, starting on one end of the “log,” gather the dough in a spiral (snail shell) shape and place on baking tray (seam down). Baste challah with egg wash (50:50 egg:water). Leave to rise for 2-3 hours or until double in size. Bake at 180°C (355°F) for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
The writer, a master baker originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, lives in Karnei Shomron with his wife, Sheryl, and four children. He is CEO of the Saidel Jewish Baking Center (, which specializes in baking and teaching how to bake healthy, traditional Jewish bread. He also manages the Showbread Institute ( which researches the biblical showbread.