By Joan Lipinsky Cochran
Charoset sweet, symbolic, and still a mystery
Charoset, an aromatic ensemble of fruits, nuts and wine, may be everyone's favorite Passover treat. But no one's really sure what it symbolizes or how it came to be added to the plate of ritual foods Jews assemble for their Seder, the dinner held the first night of Passover to commemorate the exodus from Egypt.
In fact, unlike the roasted lamb, bitter herbs, and matzo, which we are commanded to eat in the Torah and in the Haggadah, charoset isn't mentioned until hundreds of years later.
In the Mishnah, the body of writings that interpret the Torah and serve as the basis for rabbinic authority, scholars provide the first written description of a Passover seder. And even there, charoset is only mentioned as an appetizer leading, over the years, to debate among the sages about whether it is a mitzvah to eat this fruit and nut mixture or if it can be left out of the ritual dinner. Proponents of the bricks and mortar school of charoset symbolism point to the fact that the Hebrew word for clay is charsis or ceres, a close match in terms of word roots.
Talmudic scholars being what they are, they also debated whether charoset should be thick like mud to resemble the mortar used to fashion bricks and if it should incorporate uncut spices that resemble the straw used in forming bricks.
Another rationale for the inclusion of charoset in the seder plate stems from our forefather's belief that vegetables, while healthy, can also be poisonous. Charoset was added to the seder to counteract a poison as Rabbi Ami writes in the Pesachim section of theTalmud.
One of the most, perhaps, romantic takes on charoset is that proposed by Rabbi Levi in the Talmud. He taught that charoset is a reminder of the apple orchards where the Jewish women would go to give birth in order that the Egyptians would not be aware of the newborn Jewish baby. The eminent Talmudic scholar Rashi says Rabbi Levi was referring to the practice of Jewish women, whose husbands came home at night too exhausted to have sex, who would meet their husbands in the apple orchards during their lunch breaks. They would then return to the orchards to give birth where their cries of pain could not be overheard and the birth would be a secret.
Whether you accept the argument that charoset is a symbol of the brutal work of making bricks or of the rebirth of the Jewish people in apple orchards, nearly everyone agrees that charoset is delicious. The following recipes, developed by Jews adapting to the cuisines of their native countries, contain many of the same ingredients mentioned in the mishna the dates and nuts widely available in the middle east. And, unlike the American version, these do not contain apples. Most charoset recipes can be made using a food processor. Be careful, though, not to overchop. Charoset is best when it retains a coarse texture.
1 cup dates, pitted
1 cup walnuts
1-2 tablespoons of sweet wine
Combine everything in a food processor and pulse, adding enough wine to create a spreadable yet coarse consistency.
Source: Simon Mizrahi
1/2 cup pistachios
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1 cup pitted dates
1/2 cup raisins
1 large apple, peeled
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup sweet red wine (add ¼ cup at a time
1 tsp. cinnamon
You can alter the preparation of this to be as smooth or coarse as you prefer. For a smoother consistency, combine everything in the food processor and pulse. For a more textured charoset, chop each half cup of nuts separately, then combine in a large bowl. Combine the remaining ingredients, process, and add to the bowl. Then combine everything. Many people enjoy shaping this into a pyramid for serving.
Adapted from several internet recipe sites.
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Lipinsky Cochran is a Boca Raton, Florida-based food writer who is
currently marketing a novel about the Jewish syndicate. Her articles
have appeared in Family Circle, Philadelphia Inquirer, Miami Herald,
The Palm Beach Post, and Florida Design.
from the April 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
Material and Opinions in all Jewish Magazine articles are the sole responsibility of the author; the Jewish Magazine accepts no liability for material used.