It’s a week before Passover and everything is beginning to come together. The house is being cleaned and by tonight our oven (and half of our kitchen) will be kosher for Passover and read for cooking. Tonight’s job is to bring up from the basement all of the Passover cooking supplies and pot and pans, etc. If there is time, maybe even cook something!
When people talk about Passover, the first things that are usually discussed, are how many people were at your Seder, or what did you cook? Passover, over all other holidays in the Jewish calendar is always discussed in terms of food. Although food is a big part of other holidays, you don’t have big conversations about what you cooked for Rosh Hashanah dinner or Shavuot lunch. Why does Passover get such a treatment? My Rabbi gave out a sheet recently that contrasted the different aspects of the holidays. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are Synagogue and prayer based. This is not to say we don’t go to Synagogue or pray on the other holidays, but the central aspect of these holidays are going to shul and prayer. Sukkot is community based. We construct sukkot outside of our homes and we invite in the community. Shavuot is study based. We spend the whole night of Erev Shavuot studying. Finally, Passover is home based. The main ritual occurs in the home, with the family and close friends. This home/family based holiday speaks to people more than going to Synagogue, more than studying text and more than inviting in your community. It is probably why the Passover Seder is the most “observed” Jewish ritual today. More Jewish people attend some sort of Passover Seder than any other ritual. There are more printed versions of the Haggadah than any other Jewish book, the bible included. This, I believe is all due to the fact that the holiday is a home based one. Plus who would not like a holiday where you sit around the dinner table for a few hours!
When reading my new blogging friend Tori Avey’s blog I realized that in all of my years writing food columns on the web, I have never written about the Haroset recipe that we have used for many years. She posted two recipes for Haroset, one based on a traditional Ashkenazi Haroset and one more Sephardic (of course she has beautiful photos of her food, which I do not). I prefer the more Sephardic style for a few reasons. First off, I love the taste! Haroset has to taste good, and the recipe below has always gotten rave reviews. But more importantly, the Haroset combines the two Talmudic reasons for Haroset. The Mishna tells us that Haroset is on the Seder plate even though it is not a Mitzvah. The Talmud then asks (obviously) what is Haroset and why is it not a Mitzvah. The Talmud tells us that it reminds us of the apple and of the mortar. Rashi comments that the Apple is because when Pharaoh decreed that the men and women should be separated, the women would entice the men to lie with them under the apple trees in the heat of the day when they did not work. This is why the later decree to kill the male babies came about since separating the men and women did not work. The other idea is that the mixture should be made thick to resemble the mortar. Rambam later wrote that the word Haroset comes from Heres, meaning clay. Sephardic Jews, who tend to always follow what Rambam wrote, make their Haroset so that it looks like mortar, which Ashkenazi Jews tend to base it on the apple.
My mother began making this Haroset many years ago and has never stopped. My parents ALWAYS bring the Haroset to our Seder, and we still need to make more for the second Seder because no matter how much is brought it is all eaten! The recipe originally came from a Mizrahi Women cookbook. The Mizrahi Women’s Organization of America (now known as AMIT) was founded in 1925 to promote and support religious Zionist education and social services for Israel’s children and youth. At some point my mother bought a cookbook which was done as a fundraiser for a local chapter. The book has numerous Haroset recipes, but this one seems to have been the winner with us.
This recipe says it make 8 portions, but that is way off, we make 4 or even 8 times the recipe at a time. Below is the original recipe as it appears in the cookbook, and after that I will explain what we do different and some possible variations (which are not in the cookbook, but should be yummy nonetheless.
½ C pitted dates
½ C raisins
¼ C shelled walnuts
¼ C shelled almonds
1/3 C sweet wine
1 t ginger
1 t cinnamon
1. Peel, core and quarter the apple.
2. Grind apples, dates, raisins and nuts.
3. Add ginger, cinnamon and wine
4. Mix well
Pretty easy right! Well, being the post modern era, we used a food processor for the entire recipe. I put the dates in the bowl first and try to get them processed a bit as they are the hardest to do in the machine. Then I will add the apples and the raisins. After I process that for a few pulses, I will add the nuts. Today we can easily get chopped or even ground nuts for Passover. I will usually use ground nuts because we will often have other recipes calling for them. Often we but the nuts chopped and I will grind them myself in the processor first before I do any of the cooking. I still use the same amounts, even though ground nuts will probably have more in a measure than chopped. Finally I add the spices and the wine. Process it all for one or two pulses and then you are done. It stays a few days find in the fridge. I don’t really know how long it will keep, as we never have any left after a few days beyond the Seder!
In terms of variations, you can put in almost any fruit or nut. Try prunes or dried apricots or even fresh pears! Hazelnuts will work nicely in this Haroset. There is also a tradition of using all of the fruits and spices mentioned in Shir HasShirim (Song of Songs). These are apples, figs, pomegranates, grapes (the wine), dates, walnuts, saffron and cinnamon. You could easily add all or any of these to the Haroset to make your own recipe. I also found a reference on Wikipedia about a mixture called halegh, and is used by some Middle Eastern Jews instead of Haroset. Here is a link to that “recipe” which uses forty ingredients!