Shavuot, like most Jewish holidays, comes replete with special treats and dishes. The most well-known is the tradition of eating dairy. There are nearly infinite reasons given for this, including a seasonal abundance of milk since calves and lambs were born around this time of year, as well as the idea that the Israelites were like innocent newborns who needed milk. Others say the custom to eat dairy stems from the fact that, after receiving the laws of kashrut, the Israelites weren’t able to consume the meat they had prepared earlier that day.
Yet another legend claims the Israelites waited at Sinai for so long their milk curdled and became cheese. In Sephardic communities in Greece, they have a custom of eating spanakopita-like side dishes called horotopia. The Jews of Turkey, the Balkans, Syria, and Egypt make a rich milk pudding called Sutlage or Muhallabeya. Whatever the source of the tradition, Shavuot has lodged itself in the minds of many as the holiday of cheesecake and blintzes.
Before the rise of Christianity, blintzes’ yeasted cousins, blini, were traditionally prepared at the end of winter to celebrate the rebirth of the new sun with a round food. The Eastern Orthodox Church adopted this tradition and blini are eaten on Pancake Day, better known as Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday. But Jews can take credit for one thing—we popularized blintzes in the United States. As Jewish immigrants started frying them up for Hanukkah and stuffing them with sweetened ricotta or farmer’s cheese for Shavuot, people began taking notice, mass-producing them for freezer aisles across the country.