Tu B’Shvat, commonly referred to as “the birthday” or “the new year” of the trees, begins at sundown Wednesday night. The holiday is a celebration of the natural world, so eating fruits and vegetables is traditional. But even more specifically, Tu B’Shvat can be a time to enjoy the “Seven Species” mentioned in the Torah.
The Seven Species are the agricultural products mentioned as being particularly special to the land of Israel. They are: wheat, barely, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.
Grapes are strongly associated with wine, and olives with oil. Dates are actually interpreted from biblical mentions of “honey.” It is believed that in biblical times, dates were primarily boiled in water to produce a syrupy sweetener. But the foods can be consumed in any form to help observe the holiday.
Almonds have also become an “honorary eighth” species, recognizing their popularity and presence throughout Israel’s agricultural industry.
Kabbalists (Jewish mystics) actually advocate a Tu B’Shvat seder, which incorporates the Seven Species, in addition to nuts, seeds, and fruits.
Tu B’Shvat marks the beginning of spring in Israel, and historically marked the first fruits of the harvest, so it’s the perfect time for a meal of fresh fruits and vegetables. But here in the US, with the Polar Vortex barely in retreat, getting fresh produce is decidedly more difficult. The Seven Species can probably be purchased at finer food and grocery stores; but strict locavores can celebrate Judaism and the Earth with root vegetables, kale–and maybe some homemade preserves, if they were smart enough to put some away over the summer.