Ancient Hebrew Sweet You Could Make Today: Ashishot

Whatever 'ashishot' actually were, most agree it means a sweet cake. Here's how to make it

Nobody is sure what ashishot are, but the belief is they're a sort of sweet lentil latke.
Nobody is sure what ashishot are, but the belief is they're a sort of sweet lentil latke.Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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Modern man tends to have a gauzy notion that biblical-era folks ambled about wearing togas and sandals, and ate health food. In fact, modern archaeology shows them to have been plagued by cavities and gum disease, with rather less recourse to anesthetic and bright-white ceramic fillings. And while the man in the street's living conditions were indeed relatively sparse compared with today's, they seem to have loved their sweets just as much as a latter-day couch potato.

Evidence of this can be found in the description of a mysterious confection, possibly a tonic, that the love-stricken young woman narrating the Song of Songs 2:5 seeks to strengthen her before she faints from desire: "Sustain me with raisin cakes, Refresh me with apples, Because I am lovesick."

The Hebrew word for the sweet is ashishot, which appears in one other place in the Bible, 2 Sam. 6:19, where it is translated as a sweet cake – "And he dealt among all the people, [even] among the whole ... to every one a cake of bread, and a cake made in a pan, and a sweet cake."

However, in the Song of Songs, the Masoretic translation of "ashishot" is dainties and in the King James Version it's flagons, which is wine vessels. So go figure.

The ancient jugs that were found at sea. Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority

Biblical food expert Dr. Tova Dickstein of Neot Kedumim Biblical Landscape Reserve, who uses ancient sources to dream up modern recipes, believes she knows what it is. Dipping into the Jerusalem Talmud and stirring gently, she fished out the story of two sweet-toothed sages, Rabbi Yosei and Rabbi Issa.

Rabbi Issa, the story goes, went to visit Rabbi Yosei and brought him toasted lentils, ground and mixed with honey and fried. Presumably as he munches away, Rabbi Yosei states emphatically that these are the ashishot from the Song of Songs. Here is the recipe.

Ashishot, whatever that is

Information and recipes for this article are from Food at the Time of the Bible (www.palphot.com)

Ingredients

8 oz red lentils

1 tbs whole wheat flour

3–4 tbs honey

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ cup olive oil

Preparation

Toast the lentils well in a frying pan. Grind them very fine into flour (a coffee grinder works well for this). Mix the lentil flour with the olive oil, making dough spheres the size of ping-pong balls. Flatten the balls into small pancakes. Heat additional olive oil in a frying pan and fry the pancakes gently on both sides until golden brown.

(Yes, the ancients had frying pans, sometimes made of copper.)

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