Now back in my hometown for Passover, it was time to make charoses. For the uninitiated, charoses is one of the traditional foods eaten at the Pesach seder. It’s meant to represent the mortar used by Jewish slaves in building the pyramids under their Egyptian taskmasters.
It seems like every family has a different recipe for charoses. Sephardic Jews often add dates, nuts, wine, cinnamon and ginger to the grated apples; most Ashkenazi Jews use apples, cinnamon, wine, and ground walnuts or almonds. But my mother’s a”h recipe called for raisins as the secret ingredient.
Making charoses was practically a whole-day project, or so it seemed when I was a little girl, but one that I looked forward to the entire year. We made enormous quantities of charoses since not only did we have at least 30 people at our seder, but we liked it so much we noshed for the entire week of Pesach.
First, we would buy whole walnuts. We would spend a few hours cracking the nuts and separating the meat from the shell. Along with the walnuts, raisins and red apples would be fed through a grinder in alternating batches. The grinder was powered by a hand crank and lots of elbow grease, and this too seemed to take forever, but in a good way: everyone in the family was involved and it was a relaxed, happy time. Finally, after the cinnamon had been added, sweet red wine (the really syrupy stuff that resembles Robitussin) would be added in. Of course we’d all have to take multiple tastes to ensure the mixture was just right. Over the next few days, as the apples absorbed the flavors, more wine would be added, until an entire bottle had been emptied. The stirring, adjusting, and adding took five days, right up until the Seder night.
The process for making charoses has changed. It’s a lot faster and easier now with a food processor and tastes equally delicious, but some of that old-time taam (flavor) has nevertheless been lost – – everyone is so busy and pressured and of course my mother is gone, too. But I do invite my grandchildren to make charoses with me, and they enjoy the experience.
Hopefully they will pass on both the family recipe and the charoses-making tradition to their own grandchildren some day.