Journeying to Find Manna, I Find Rogov

Like any seeker of truth, I must travel afar. Undertake perilous journeys to faraway lands. Be ready for dangerous adventures. And always carry my American Express Card.

It’s time to do it. Make the plane reservations! Find a decent hotel and even more important find one that serves good coffee! Pack the bags, choosing clothes wisely and of course leaving plenty of room for new clothes to bring home. This is all part of the manna thing.

But wait, I forgot. I have two children at home! I am ready for perilous journeys but definitely not ready to listen to their bickering alongside me in the endless quest. I prefer to hear their bickering at home.

Therefore the manna must come to me. And serendipity has already magically occurred! I clicked here and there et voila! Right before my eyes appeared an article written by one of my favorite people in the food world – Daniel Rogov.

I really can not imagine a better place to begin! From ‘Manna for Breakfast’ by Rogov:

Of all the events described in the Bible, there are few that inspire more awe than the miracle of manna. The Sinai Dessert is an especially harsh environment, but for forty years as the Hebrews wandered through the dessert in search of the Promised Land, they had no problem in finding their daily food. Every morning, shortly after dawn, the Hebrews were graced with as much of this wafer-like delicacy as they could consume during the day. Delivered directly from the heavens, one had to do no more than gather his or her share, eat as much as they liked and then look forward to the next day’s crop.

There is of course, another, somewhat more caustic view about manna. Even though the Old Testament and tradition concur that manna contained the ingredients of every delicious food and suited the taste of all who partook of it, some speculate that forty years of manna made for a fairly monotonous diet. So unhappy were the Israelites that at one point they actually complained to Moses that “…we have naught save this manna to look to”. With neither a bowl of chicken soup or a good pate de foie gras in sight, life might have been fairly difficult.

And here I thought manna was only the Good Stuff, the Best of All Things Possible, the thing with feathers that spake (that’s how you have to talk when you talk of these things) of Salvation somehow. Obviously this was the Goyim half of me thinking. But there’s more!

Some etymologists suggest that the Israelites, puzzled over the mysterious substance, called it man, the name of a sweet with which they had become familiar when in Egypt. Even today this sticky, honey-like juice exudes in heavy drops in May and June from certain shrubs found in Sinai. In the Rashbam commentaries, however, it is noted that while this may account for the naming of the miraculous provender, it cannot account for the feeding of so many people, for man is found only in minuscule quantities.

Others suggest that the name simply reflects the confusion of the people who could not identify the substance and comes from ma-nah, a word combining a Hebrew root with an Egyptian stem and meaning “what is this?”

Since the 4th century, scholars and monks at Saint Catherine’s monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai have held that manna originated from the secretions of the scale insects that made their homes on the tamarisk shrubs that are common to the Sinai. Modern scientists concur with this as a possibility and speculate that a massive swarm of Trabutina mannipara had invaded the Sinai during this time, thus allowing for large quantities of their secretions to be “harvested” each morning.

I want to taste these things.

But right now, I’ll have to try Rogov’s recipe instead.

To capture at least the basic flavors of manna, one might care to try the following pancakes.

225 gr. cake quality matzo flour, sifted
2 tsp. dried coriander leaves (gad in Hebrew, cusbara in Arabic), ground extremely finely
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
about 2 Tbs. honey

Resift the flour together with the ground coriander. Place the flour in a bowl and in the center make a well. Into this pour 1/2 cup of boiling water and the oil. Mix into a dough and then knead on a well floured board until smooth and elastic. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions.

Roll out a portion of the dough into a 10 cm. circle and brush with the sesame oil. Roll a second portion and with this cover the first. Roll the combined circles to make a 15 cm. pancake sandwich. Continue the process until all of the dough has been used and 6 pancakes sandwiches are ready.

Heat a heavy skillet, without oil, and in this one at a time fry the sandwiched pancakes, turning once so that both sides are cooked. The skillet should be kept moving constantly to prevent the pancakes from sticking, and cooking should be done over a moderate flame.

When all of the pancakes have been cooked, separate the sandwiched pancakes. Spread one side of each pancake lightly with honey and fold each single pancake in half and then in half again. Serve at once or cover with a lightly dampened cloth and set aside to keep warm until ready to serve. Yields 12 pancakes.

I’m going out to buy some matzo flour. Manna Cakes, here I come!

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