Feeding Curiosity: Snacks for Hebrew Bible Students

“Food is sleep,” as they say. And, “A brain without sugar is no brain at all.” So, on the occasion of their final exam, I brought my Biblical Hebrew students an Old-Testament-correct snack of unleavened barley cakes and date syrup.

Barley Cakes: My son loves these dry, without any topping or spread.

I mix the dough at 70% hydration: this means that the amount of water equals 70% of the amount of flour. For example, if 500 grams of barley flour, then 350 grams of water. I also add about 1 T olive oil for each 200-300 grams flour, and about 1 (scant) t salt for each 500 grams or so of flour.

  • Have a pizza stone in the oven on the middle rack. If you don’t have a pizza stone, wash a clean, very large, unglazed terracotta flower pot very well, allow to dry thoroughly (like overnight), and break it carefully so as to preserve one big piece to use as a convex stone. Preheat oven to about 525-550 if it will go there, or else as high as it will go. If your flowerpot piece explodes, it wasn’t dry enough. Allow the stone or pot to absorb heat for a good thirty minutes after the oven reaches temperature.
  • Combine ingredients (no worries about adding in the salt right away, because there’s no leaven to kill);
  • Mix together, then let the flour absorb the water for about 45 minutes.
  • Knead for about 5 minutes. You’re not building gluten here, just evening out the mixture. If it feels really dry, wet your hands with warm water and knead some more. There’s a fine line here: it’s easy to add too much water and get mud pies, but at the same time, you want as much hydration as you can get since a dry barley dough is very crumbly. Allow it to rest again.
  • Chop off pieces of about 100 grams (lemon-sized, say). Roll them in your hands, then flatten them. Use a roller (or clean glass jar) to roll them out on the counter top. Lift carefully.
  • Lay one patty on your pizza stone or flower pot piece. (If the latter, then press carefully to maximize contact on the convex surface.)
  • Cook about 2 1/2 minutes per side on the stone, or about 3–5 minutes on one side against the potsherd. Let the first one cool well on a wire rack, and then break it open: then you’ll know if your cooking through okay.
  • Eat warm or eat later.

Date Syrup: My boy tells me that this may be the best thing I have ever made. It’s sweet and refreshing. The ingredients are…dates and water. This is probably the “honey” (דבש) most frequently named in the Hebrew Bible.

  • Buy a bag of pitted dates. Whole Foods has them bulk where we are. Get enough to fill a saucepan.
  • If you have a blender or food processor, chop them up well (or chop by hand).
  • Drop them in the saucepan, and add enough water to cover the dates.
  • Bring to a boil, and boil for about five minutes. Reduce heat, and simmer partially covered for 30–60 minutes, until well reduced. You have to stir regularly to break up the “skin.”
  • The consistency is like a cross between caramel and apple sauce. You can filter out the solids, but if you chopped really well, everything should dissolve nicely, and the fiber is a nice piece of the nutritional value.
  • Allow to cool. Store some in the fridge, and freeze anything you won’t eat soon.

To be really scientific, I ought to have allowed only half of the class to eat the barley cakes and date syrup, and then compared their performance. But, I have always been an old softie, and I also have a lot of date syrup to go through.

What Hebrew-Bible-correct snacks would you like to see in the classroom?

[Feeding Curiosity: Snacks for Hebrew Bible Students was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/05/11. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

4 Responses

  1. What? No, wine to wash all that down?

  2. Now see, we need care and feeding snacks for theology students. Best we have is ale.

  3. Manna.
    And meat–quail will do.
    And water. From a rock.

  4. What a nice treat. I am sure your students loved it.

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