My favorite part of the hilarious bestseller Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris is when he tries to explain Easter to his fellow French class students. The more he explains about Jesus, the bunny and a basket of eggs the more impossibly ridiculous it sounds. So it is with charoset.
In the beginning there was a seder plate. Seder means "order" as the Passover meal has a distinct order to it and describing what is on the seder plate, a kind of centerpiece to the dinner table, is one of the rituals of the evening. On the seder plate were various symbolic items, bitter herb which is usually some horseradish, matzoh and a roasted lamb shank. The bitter herb represents the bitterness of slavery. The matzoh is the bread of affliction or what the Jews ate on their way out of town. The lamb shank is symbolic of the lamb offered as a sacrifice.
Somewhere along the line, various other things were added making a much more crowded plate. I don't know exactly when rabbis added charoset but they did it to offset the bitterness with a little sweetness. A mixture of apples, walnuts, cinnamon and sweet wine, charoset is supposed to represent the mortar that was used by the Jews in making bricks when they were slaves. Only charoset doesn't really look like mortar and why would it taste sweet anyway? And why would you eat it? There is another reason for charoset that I only recently read about. During their slavery in Egypt, Hebrew women would deliver their infants in apple orchards in order to escape the Egyptian authorities who were ordered to kill all newborn males. And so we eat apples. Wacky, don't you think?
There are lots of recipes for charoset that reflect the fruit and nuts available in different parts of the world and not all recipes contain apples, but being of Eastern European descent, I choose the apple and walnut version. In Pesach for the Rest of Us Marge Piercy recalls a non-Jewish friend calling it Jewish guacamole! It's not quite as good as guacamole, but it is nice and tastes something like a sweet salad or a condiment. During the seder we eat it on matzoh but it's good with yogurt or just as a snack.
Charoset is one of those dishes you make to taste. It is more of a method than a recipe, but here is a formula you can tweak and make your own:
2 red apples, I like Galas
1/4 cup sweet Kosher concord grape wine
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
Peel the apples, core and chop them roughly, but fairly finely, add some chopped walnuts, then add the cinnamon and Kosher wine to moisten. You should have a thick but slightly chunky mixture. If you want to serve it on matzoh it needs to be "spreadable". If you are serving it as a snack or with yogurt you can make it chunkier.
FOOD + PASSOVER