Haroset (also charoset or charoses), the blend of fruit and nuts symbolizing the mortar which our forefathers used to build pyramids in Egypt, is one of the most popular and discussed foods served at the Seder. The fruit and nuts found in almost all haroset recipes refer to two verses in the Song of Songs closely linked with the spring season: "Under the apple tree I awakened thee" (8:5) and "I went down into the garden of nuts" (6:11). The red wine recalls the Red Sea, which parted its waters for the Jews.
The real purpose of the haroset is to allay the bitterness of the maror (bitter herbs) required at the Seder. And from this combination of the haroset and maror between two pieces of matzo, the sandwich may have been invented by the Rabbi Hillel, the great Jewish teacher who lived between 90 BCE and 70CE. Haroset also shows how Jewish cookery was developed by the emigration from Mediterranean countries to Easter Europe and by local ingredients supplemented or discarded based on their availability.
Although most American Jews are familiar with the mixture of apples, almonds, cinnamon, wine and ginger, this is by no means the only combination possible. Walnuts, pine nuts, peanuts or chestnuts may be combined with apricots, coconuts, raisins, dates, figs, or even bananas.
Whereas Ashkenazic (Eastern European) haroset is quite universal,
differing only texturally, that of the Sephardic (Spanish/Arabic/Mediterranean)
Jews changes according to the country and sometimes even the city of origin.
On the island of Rhodes, for example, dates, walnuts, ginger and sweet
wine are used. The Greek city of Salonika adds raisins to this basic recipe;
Turkish Jews, not far away, include an orange. Egyptians eat dates, nuts,
raisins and sugar, without the ginger or wine. Yemenites use chopped dates
and figs, coriander and chili pepper. An interesting haroset from Venice
has chestnut paste and apricots, while one from Surinam, Dutch Guinea,
calls for seven fruits including coconut. Each Israeli uses the Diaspora
haroset recipe of his ancestors or an Israeli version that might include pignolia nuts, peanuts, bananas, apples, dates, sesame seeds, matzo meal and red wine.
Most people like their haroset recipe so well that it is not only spread on matzo and dipped in horseradish at the Seder table. Some families make large quantities to be eaten for breakfast, lunch and snacks throughout Passover.
Ashkenazic Apple-Nut Haroset
Combine all, mixing thoroughly. Add wine as need. Blend to desired texture -- some like it coarse and crunchy, others prefer it ground to a paste. Chill.
Makes 3 cups.
Cover raisins and dates with water; let stand 1 hr. Add the sugar and blend or food-process until roughly chopped. Transfer to a heavy saucepan and simmer 20 min or until fruits are cooked and water is absorbed. When cool, stir in chopped nuts.
Makes 4 cups.
Larry Bain's Bubie's Haroset
Using the steel blade of a food processor, chop very fine, but not to a paste, the walnuts, apricots, prunes, dates, apples and orange. Add the wine, brandy, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and lime juice. If needed, add enough matzo meal to make a mortar-like consistency.
Makes 6 cups
Combine all the fruits and nuts. Add the wine and vinegar until a pasty consistency is achieved. Add the spices and blend well. Adjust seasonings.
Makes 5 cups.
Seven-Fruit Haroset from Surinam
Combine everything except the jam and wine in a pot. Cover with water and simmer over low heat. Periodically, add small amounts of water to prevent sticking. Cook at least 90 minutes. When it is cohesive, stir in the jam and let stand until cool. Add enough sweet wine to be absorbed by the haroset and chill.
Makes 5 cups.
Many Sephardic Jews relocated to Holland at the time of the Inquisitions. From there, some went to Dutch colonies, often engaging in the sugar and spice trade. Mrs. Abraham Lopes Cardozo (nee Robles) is a fine cook who makes an effort to preserve for her family and friends her Surinam culinary heritage. She is the wife of the chazan cantor) of Shearith Israel Congregation in New York City; he is the former minister of the Sephardic Congregation in Surinam.
At Passover, Surinam customs are quite
unusual. Mrs. Cardozo explained, for instance, that matzot were a rarity
in Surinam. Because they had to be imported from Holland (and later, the
US), cassava (a kind of potato) meal was often used instead to bake sweet
breads for Passover. The potato was first grated and washed, then dried
in the sun for weeks. Once dried, it was ready to be mixed with other ingredients,
much as we use matzo cake meal.
Combine all ingredients, using just enough honey and brandy to make everything bind together.
Makes 4 cups.
This delicious haroset recipe comes from the famous Luzzato family of Venice. Members of the family have lived in Italy since 1541 and probably before. names like Benedetto Luzzato, Simone Luzzato, Moses Haim Luzzato and Samuel David Luzzato were well known to Italians from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment as authors, professors and rabbis. Francis Luzzato of Washington DC works for the Peace Corps and is a keeper of family traditions; this is his family's recipe.
In a food processor, chop all the fruits, including the pomegranate seeds and juice and the nuts. Add the spices, adjusting each to your taste.
Makes 7 cups.