[posted by Ann with input from Joan]
Tsimmes (AKA Tsimmis, Tzimmes, Zimmes) is a slow-cooked, sweetish stew of carrots, dried fruit, and sometimes meat and other root vegetables. Our Grandmother’s Tsimmes, a dish of very sweet carrots was not appealing to a juvenile palate. (Our octogenarian Mother admits now that she never liked it either.) After childhood I heard no more of Tsimmes until 1989 when Joan became famous in Minneapolis for her version of Tsimmes, made with beef brisket, carrots, onions, prunes, dried apricots, and brown sugar. She had no memory of our Grandmother’s carrot Tsimmes, and improvised her own recipe.
“I'm not sure what motivated me to try to make it as I don't think I even ate meat at the time! I do remember tasting the fruit and juices. I felt proud when I took some to Lena, my cosmetologist and cooking mentor, and she loved it and wanted the recipe! I think I merged ideas from several recipes. My husband loved his mother's pot roast which was slow cooked with onions and garlic and so maybe I was trying to make a tender, flavorful brisket for him.”
A reporter from the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote up the recipe and brought a photographer to the house to take pictures. Joan and the reporter were both vegetarians at the time, so neither actually ate the finished dish. Joan’s recipe, her photo, and the photo of the Tsimmes were featured in the newspaper.
Joan’s famous Tsimmes
4-5 pounds beef brisket, trimmed
3-4 carrots in 1-inch chunks
2-3 medium onions, thinly sliced
6 ounces, dried apricots
12 ounces prunes
¾ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
salt to taste
1. Cut brisket into 4 or 5 pieces of equal size
2. Place meat in deep roasting pan, such as a large Dutch oven or a turkey roasting pan
3. Place carrot chunks, onions apricots, and prunes over meat, sprinkle with brown sugar.
4. Pour in about a cup of water, enough to reach a height of ½ inch in the bottom of the pan
5. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 325 degrees for three hours. Stir about once an hour and spoon juices over the meat.
6. Remove from oven and chill in roasting pan for several hours or overnight.
7. Skim fat when mixture has cooled. Return vegetable-fruit mixture to baking pan. Slice meat thinly on the diagonal and arrange in baking pan, spooning vegetable-fruit mixture over meat.
8. Cover loosely and heat for about one hour at 350 degrees. Add more water if it dries out, or uncover if it is too juicy.
More about Tsimmes
In the 1933 Settlement cookbook there are three recipes for Zimmes. Version one is carrots with brown sugar and butter, maybe this is what our grandmother made. Version two calls only for brisket, carrots, salt, pepper and flour. Version three call for prunes, brisket, potatoes, sugar, and citric acid.
Joan Nathan’s Jewish Cooking in America, from 1994, gives a recipe for “Bialystok Tsimmes with Sweet Potatoes, Carrots, Prunes, and Apricots.” The ingredients also include short ribs, carrots, white potatoes, apricot jam, brown sugar, lemon juice, and orange juice. Our grandfather was born in Bialystok, but our Grandmother, from nearby Krynki, didn’t have this Tsimmes in her repertoire. Nathan’s book also includes a Lithuanian “Tsimmes with Beets, Turnips, and Beef” made with onion and sweet potato. According to Nathan, the word Tsimmes is derived from the Yiddish or German “Zum essen”, meaning “to eat.”
Claudia Roden’s 1996 Book of Jewish food explains that in America, sweet potatoes were introduced as an alternative to potatoes. Her basic recipe for Prune Tzimmes (Meat and potato stew with prunes) calls for brisket, potatoes, and prunes. Carrots, honey, and red wine are optional additions.
Last week I tested an updated Tsimmes, Hudson Valley Tsimis, for Food52.com. It calls for beef short ribs, carrots, onion, sweet potatoes, prunes, and dried apricots. What made it distinctive was the addition of lemon juice, lemon peel, maple syrup, and fresh ginger. It had an exotic, Moroccan flavor that I loved.