“Babe, These Are Prune. They’re Not Poppy”: Interview ‘s Creative Director Mel Ottenberg On His Favorite Seasonal Treat, Poppy Hamantaschen

Published March 21, 2019

It’s Purim, the holiday in which the Jewish people celebrate their saving from an evil vizier named Haman who wanted to kill them all. Unofficially known as “Jewish Halloween,” Purim is a time when Jews are commanded to dress up and get so drunk they don’t know the difference between a hero and a genocidal iconoclast. In that festive spirit, we asked our Creative Direcor, Mel Ottenberg, to dish on his favorite Purim tradition: smoking weed and eating hamantaschen, the traditional holiday cookie whose shape is inspired by Haman’s triangular hat. 

“Poppy hamantaschen were a dime a dozen growing up in the ’90s in D.C. We would go to lunch every day at the Giant Food, smoke weed and cigarettes, and eat poppy hamantaschen. All of the non-Jews that I was friends with were all fucking with my hamantaschen. Because they were good. The hamantaschen we are sitting here eating today are from William Greenberg Desserts, which is on the Upper East Side. It’s a super-duper classy place—very white-glove Jew. It’s up there with Zabar’s, which, by the way, doesn’t sell poppy hamantaschen.* They only sell what I would consider the trash of hamantaschen, which are prune and apricot. The problem with those is that there’s this sweet shit in the middle of a sweet pastry. It’s too sweet. The ingredients for this one are poppy seeds, some kind of fruit glue, essence of date, and butter. William Greenberg really tore it. This pastry is unreal. The poppy seed itself is like dessert caviar. [Takes another bite.] Years ago, my boyfriend, Adam, gave me a Christmas present. I opened it, and it was three hamantaschen from a fancy bakery. He was so proud of himself, and I was like, “Babe, these are prune. They’re not poppy.” He fell for the prune. Even though they basically look the same, I could see from five feet away that the ones he got me were prune and I didn’t want to eat them. I couldn’t eat them.”

*Fact-checking call with Zabar’s:

ZABAR’S: Good afternoon, Zabar’s. How may I help you?

FACT CHECKER: Do you guys sell poppy hamantaschen?

ZABAR’S: I know we sell the containers of assorted flavor in the hamantash, but I’m not sure if we have the poppy. One moment, please.

Automated Hold Message: Zabar’s has been tasting every batch of coffee to make sure that your cup of coffee meets his exacting taste, every time. Thank you for your patience. Someone should be with you shortly. Do you have a copy of our latest catalog? It’s very unique. It has a new look and will make shopping by mail at Zabar’s even easier. Now, one thing will stay the same: We’re still going to be the Zabar’s you’ve come to love, only better. Looking for the perfect gift? Just wait until you see our gift basket and gift-box selections. We can fax you information. Just ask us. And again, thank you for your patience.

ZABAR’S: Unfortunately, no. We do not carry the poppy one. And the one that’s assorted does not have poppy seed.

FACT CHECKER: So you just have prune and apricot?

ZABAR’S: Yes. And I believe there’s also raspberry.

FACT CHECKER: Thank you.