Tag Archives: drinks

Breaking the fast: The sound logic of sweet melon seeds

The beverages Jews drink to break the fast of Yom Kippur vary among communities, but the majority of them come down to  sweetened teas or herbal infusions, sometimes with spice added.

Putting spice in your empty stomach first thing after a 25-hour fast might sound counterintuitive, but many spices have soothing digestive properties. Yom Kippur drinks may contain cinnamon, or cardamom, or herbs like mint and lemon verbena. Other spices valued for their digestive and calming properties include anise, fennel seed, and ginger, and it’s a safe bet someone will be ingesting them somewhere at the close of the holiday.

As a people whose diet is shy of strong spices, Ottoman Sephardim re-awaken the stomach with the mildest of beverages: pipitada, an infusion of crushed melon seeds, steeped several hours in cold water, strained, and sweetened with a little sugar. The drink is in keeping with our custom of beginning meals each day with a melon course, an ancient practice with a sound, healthful logic. Continue reading


Filed under Customs, Holidays (fiestas judias)

Vişinată – Sour Cherry Drink

Hello Janet, I was wondering if you had a recipe for a drink my grandma used to make, it was, I think, called visnada or visnata and basically a sour cherry syrup with the fruits it. It was reduce and you would dilute it with water. My family is from Izmir, Turkey. Thanks!   – Estelle

Well, Estelle, you’ve just pretty much described the recipe you’re looking for!  Visnada is one of those seemingly exotic things that turns out to be sraightforward and simple.

Sour cherries are native to central and Eastern Europe (Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Romania, etc.) and parts of Asia Minor. The word vişinată is actually Romanian, deriving from the Romanian word vişine (cherry).  Rumania was part of the Ottoman Empire (as were all of the countries I’ve named above), so it doesn’t take too much thought to figure out then how a Romanian word, if not the specific recipe, found its way into Ottoman (and, by extension, Ottoman-Sephardic) gastronomy.

Vişinată, kirsch, marsachino are all Central European cherry brandies, which are generally made by macerating sour cherries in sugar and alcohol.  Turkey being predominantly Moslem, it’s logical that a non-alcoholic version would have evolved there, and just as logical that our essentially teetotalling relatives would have latched onto the same alcohol-free version.   I have to confess I’m free-associating here, letting logic prevail without my usual deep digging.  When things settle down again at the restaurant (end of summer)? I’ll be able to unearth some specifics.  In the meantime…

To make an alcohol-free vişinată, you need only simmer sour cherries & sugar in water.  Use only sour cherries – the sugar will offset the tartness without killing the cherry flavor.  Sweet cherries will just give you bland results.  Try 2 parts sugar, 2 parts cherries and 1 part water.  Dissolve the sugar in water on the stove, add the cherries and simmer them to reduce the liquid to a dark, thick syrup.  Let it cool thoroughly – hot sugar burns!   To make a drink, pour some of the syrup  (and cherries) into a glass and dilute it with cold water.  You might like seltzer instead of water, and a sprig of fresh mint leaves adds a wonderful aroma.  Or add a squeeze of lime juice and you’ve got a Cherry Lime Rickey – one of the goofiest drink names ever dreamed up, but a great thirst-quencher.

As an aside, vişinată syrup is also great served over vanilla ice cream and pan de spanya.  But what isn’t!


Filed under Recipes, Your Questions Answered


PEPITADA (“peh-pi-TAH-dtha”) is a Ladino word indicating a beverage ‘made from fruit pip (seeds)’.  The “-ada” suffix is the equivalant of “-ade” in English, as in lemonade.  Pepitada is a milky-looking drink made by steeping crushed melon seeds in cold water, straining them and adding a little sugar and perhaps a few drops of orange flower essence, rosewater or honey (the secondary flavorings vary regionally throughout the Mediterranean).  You think the makers of Gatorade were innovators? Pepitada is a straightforward health tonic: easy on the stomach, refreshing and loaded with potassium, it replenishes electrolytes.  Pepitada is mostly associated with breaking fasts (perhaps especially the fast of Tisha b’Av, which falls in summer smack in the the middle of melon season) but is also an excellent means of coping with the intense heat of deep summer.


Filed under Glossary, Holidays (fiestas judias)