A Tu Bishvat Seder For Every Personality

Tu Bishvat is not just for hippies anymore.

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Over the last decade, seders for Tu Bishvat have spiked in popularity. This growth is largely due to the contemporary Jewish community's interest in "greening" ritual and holidays. Every year, the number of organizations turning to Tu Bishvat to inject some sustainability-awareness into their annual programming grows, as does the collection of environmentally-inspired haggadot for Tu Bishvat available online. (Like this one from MyJewishLearning, this one from Hillel, and this one from Hazon.)

The downside is that some people shy away from celebrating the holiday precisely because it feels too "hippie" or eco-spiritual. But while the Tu Bishvat seder, which was originally developed as a mystical celebration by kabbalists in 16th century Safed, provides a helpful structure for celebrating Tu Bishvat, there are no official rules for the holiday. The lack of halakhic requirements means that seders can be tailored to meet their hosts' personalities--even if they happen to prefer fine china over bicompostable dishware.

The Seder Structure

dried fruit for tu bishvat

Borrowing from Passover's four cups of wine, the kabbalistic seder for Tu Bishvat is divided into four parts that correspond to four "worlds." This notion of the importance of the number four repeats itself in multiple ways: through assigning a season and mystical attribute to each world, through drinking four cups of wine, and by dividing the foods eaten during the seder (generally a feast of fruits and nuts) into four categories that reflect human nature. Each of these components attempts to coax another level of contemplative thought, creativity, and wonder from seder participants.

Variations on the Theme

The five seder menus below share two key elements of the kabbalistic model:
· One glass of wine served in each "world," moving from all white to all red
· A feast of fruit and nuts that corresponds with the kabbalistic attributes: fruits that are hard/inedible on the outside and soft on the inside in world 1, fruits that are soft on the outside and hard/inedible inside in world 2, fruits that are completely soft/edible in world 3, and no fruit in world 4
Beyond that, they vary widely in personality and presentation. So choose the seder menu that suits your tastes (or create your own) and have a wonderful Tu Bishvat!

THE HIPPIE

Go ahead and let your eco-freak flag wave.
Menu Suggestions
World 1: walnut pesto (recipe below) served on flaxseed crackers
World 2: date muffins spread with peach preserves
World 3: strawberry and blueberry smoothie "shots" blended with organic yogurt
Wine List Any organic or local wines will do. If you're looking for kosher options, go with Yarden Organic Chardonnay for white and Baron Herzog Merlot for red.
Decorations Arrange the room with comfy pillows spread around the floor, hang colorful tapestries, and set low tables with tea lights, scented candles, and potted bonsai trees.

THE SOPHISTICATE

Elegance need not take a backseat on Tu Bishvat.
Menu Suggestions

World 1: Lemon tartlets with an almond crust
World 2: Avocado-stuffed deviled eggs
World 3: Poached pears in wine syrup
With all that fruit on the table, you are going to want some cheese. Make a few small cheese boards to set around the table for mid-seder snacking.
Wine List Proper wine pairing is crucial to the seder's success. Consult with your local wine seller to find the perfect bottle for each course. Be sure to start with a sparkling Prosecco or champagne to kick things off in style.
Decorations Use cloth napkins with elegant napkin rings, your finest china, and good flatware (naturally). Set small sprays of roses in miniature jars around the table. Tie individualized place cards around the stem of a small apple and place in the middle of each plate.

THE NEWBIE

For first timers, the key is simplicity.
Menu Suggestions Create a few beautiful platters of whole fresh and dried fruit and nuts, and let the food shine for itself. Group the fruit and nuts from each "world" together on the platter to ease the guesswork--make sure to have a couple of options from each category.
Wine List Use your favorite table red and basic white wine.
Decorations Float a few tea-lights in bowls of water, and set bouquets of fresh, fragrant herbs (rosemary and thyme work especially well) in mason jars around the table.

THE MULTI-CULTURALIST

Celebrate Jewish foods from around the world on Tu Bishvat.
Menu Suggestions
World 1: Middle-Eastern inspired baklava
World 2: Hungarian fruit soup with peaches and plums
World 3: Sephardic quince and apple candies
Wine List 
Feature kosher wines from Israel, Italy, and Spain at your table.
Decorations Use music to set the mood--make a playlist of Jewish music from different cultures and let it play in the background throughout the seder.

THE CHOCOLATE LOVER

Because no holiday is complete without chocolate.
chocolate fondue for tu bishvat
Menu Suggestions
One word: Fondue. Have platters of fruit and nuts from each "world" interspersed around the table (the fruit should be cut into bite-sized pieces). In the center of the table, place a fondue pot filled with melted chocolate for a tasty and interactive seder (check out our recipe). Don't forget to provide sticks or long forks for dipping.

Wine List Ask your local wine seller for chocolate port and use it in place of the red wine. Another option is to skip the wine altogether and substitute it with chocolate. Start with a piece of white chocolate in the first "world" and slowly progress to milk chocolate, bittersweet, and--finally--decadently dark.

Decorations Lay a light brown tablecloth on your table and use dark brown napkins fastened with cream-colored rings for a sweet effect. Top off the table with this almost-good-enough-to-eat chocolate bar candle.

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Leah Koenig

Leah Koenig is a freelance writer whose work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Gastronomica, Jewish Living, Lilith, Culinate, Beliefnet and other publications.