One of the most loved dishes on the Passover Seder table is charoset. Yes, each year we look forward to eating this lumpy, brown concoction. How is it that we love food that looks like mud? It is because this fruity mixture happens to be delicious.
It was our beloved rabbis who decided we should have a chopped fruit mixture to ease the taste of the bitter herbs at the Passover Seder.
Maimonides and others tell us that charoset – from the Hebrew word “cheres” meaning clay - is meant to remind us of the mortar which the Israelite slaves used in their building in Egypt. (Maimonides, The Book of Seasons 7:11).
In our best creative, productive mode, we Jews have come up with an almost infinite number of ways to create a mortar-looking mixture of fruit.
Sephardic Jews tend to use dried fruits in their charoset, thereby staying close to Maimonides’ description of the dish. I’ve seen charoset recipes that use figs, dates, raisins, prunes, dried apricots and even coconut.
Ashkenazi Jews often use fresh apples in their charoset. Some say apples are used in remembrance of the apple trees under which the Jewish women secretly gave birth in Egypt (Song of Songs 8:5)", but I think the fact that apples were readily available and affordable in Eastern Europe had something to do with the starring role they play in Ashkenazi charoset recipes. Similarly, some say Ashkenazim use red wine in charoset in remembrance of the splitting of the Red Sea, others say it is in remembrance of the plague of blood. I think it is because wine is a readily available, kosher for Passover ingredient that goes well with fruit.
You can have fun creating your own charoset recipe as the goal is simply a good-tasting mixture of fruit that looks like mud. I suggest putting a combination of apples, dried fruits and nuts in your food processor. Then moisten with juice and sweet wine, and sweeten with sugar or honey. If you are not into cooking experiments, then you can use one of the many tried and tested charoset recipes already in existence.
While charoset is eaten with matzo and bitter herbs during the Seder service, many continue to enjoy it throughout the week of Passover. My family likes to eat charoset on matzo for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack.