On Rosh Hashanah, ask, How do you like them apples

NEW YORK — "My parents never go to temple anymore, but they always serve apples and honey at Rosh Hashanah," says a Generation X art director. The combination seems right for celebrating" a sweet New Year. "Maybe this is my Madeleine à la Proust?" he wonders, referring to the fragrant tea cookie in "Remembrance of Things Past."

There is something about the simplicity of apple slices surrounding a little pot of honey that for Jews around the world kindles nostalgia for the past — and the hope that the year to come will be happy, prosperous, successful and sweet.

"The eating of apples has many layers of meaning," writes rabbi and chef Gil Marks in his cookbook "The World of Jewish Entertaining."

"In mystical literature an apple orchard is frequently pictured as a symbol of the Divine Presence. Song of Songs (2:3) attests to the apple's sweetness, and Proverbs (25:11) to its beauty; and the sweetness of both the honey and the apple serves as a wish for a sweet year to come.

"In this vein, Rosh Hashanah dishes are commonly sweetened with honey and fruits."

Eating a new fruit, one not yet sampled until autumn, is an ancient custom observed on the second night of Rosh Hashanah while reciting the Shehechiyanu. For that reason, apples have played a pivotal role at Rosh Hashanah celebrations, which is why over the centuries it has become customary to serve apple strudel, apple coffeecakes and babkas, and noodle puddings layered with apples. In the annuls of Jewish cuisine, the apple is possibly the most versatile produce, finding its way into New Year's casseroles, pastries and the applesauce that accompanies Rosh Hashanah briskets.

Besides being easy to prepare, the apple and acorn squash casserole below is made from produce bursting with seeds, auspicious at this pivotal time of year. "Rosh Hashanah foods are symbols of fertility and plenty," Marks writes.

The challah and Granny Smith apple stuffing is a marvelous accompaniment to poultry or veal. For families who find themselves with one too many round challot during the holidays, this recipe provides an irresistible way to bring this special bread to the table in an unexpected form.