Jews all over the world are getting ready for Passover, which starts this year on the evening of April 22.
As an aside, you may wonder why this holiday, which normally starts betwen late March and mid-April, is so late this year. It has to do with the peculiarities of the Jewish calendar. It’s a lunar calendar, with months of 28 or 29 days. This means that every year, the lunar calendar dates are approximately 11 days earlier than they were the year before on the coinciding Gregorian calendar.
Many Jewish festivals, including Passover, are tied to a particular time of year. It wouldn’t do to have Passover fall in February! So to keep the calendar kosher, so to speak, we periodically insert a “leap month” into it. This happens seven times in 19 years. You have to admire the people who figured this out!
This is a leap month. After the month of Adar in February-March, we had “Second Adar.” This pushes the next month, Nisan, back to where it belongs. The earliest date Passover can start is March 25. The latest is April 25.
As we’re cleaning our houses and shopping for Passover food, we’re also planning our seders, the ceremonial meals that take place on the first two nights of the eight-day holiday.
The centerpiece of the seder table is the seder plate, which holds the ceremonial foods used in the meal: greens, bitter herbs, a roasted egg, a roasted shankbone, salt water and charoset.
What is charoset?
First of all it’s pronounced to rhyme with “Pa HOSE sit,” with a guttural “ch” to start.
It’s a paste made of fruit, nuts, spices and wine and is meant to symbolize the mortar that the ancient Hebrews used to hold together the bricks they made as slaves in Egypt. The word may come from the Hebrew “cheres,” meaning clay. The Passover festival celebrates the Hebrews’ freedom from hundreds of years of captivity in Egypt.
You eat charoset with the bitter herbs during the ceremonial part of the seder, and then as a relish for the festive meal that follows.
There are just about as many versions of charoset as there are countries where Jews have lived.
In America, the most common type of charoset uses chopped or grated apples, chopped nuts, sweet wine and maybe a little cinnamon, because those were the ingredients available to our ancestors in Central and Eastern Europe.
Many, many varieties
Jews in other countries used dates and other dried fruits and honey. Some incorporated oranges and bananas. The only constants seem to be some sort of fruit and some sort of nuts. The mixture should be sweet.
For years I made the standard apples-and-nuts mixture.
Then I got a copy of Gloria Kaufer Greene’s fabulous Jewish Holiday Cookbook – not to be confused with Joan Nathan’s equally fabulous Jewish Holiday Kitchen. Greene offers recipes for Moroccan-Style Charoset, Israeli-Style Charoset, Turkish-Style Charoset, Sephardic-Style Date Charoset, and Yemenite-Style Charoset. I also have in my recipe stash charoset recipes from Persia, Venice and Surinam.
I like the traditional apple-and-nut charoset, but it’s a little boring. And what do you do with the leftovers? It’s not easy to spread on matzoh because the apples make it runny, and it doesn’t keep more than a few days in the fridge.
So I tried this recipe for Moroccan-Style Charoset, which you can serve in a bowl as a paste or make into little balls. It keeps for weeks in the fridge, which is good because the recipe makes a large amount (you may want to halve it if you’re not serving a horde). My kids loved it; they thought it was candy!
Give this a try, even if you’re not Jewish and getting ready for a seder. It’s a nice dessert, lunchox snack or party item.