This year we are preoccupied with the covid-19 virus. Everyone is worried, careful, and wondering how long the anxiety will last. However, covid-19 virus notwithstanding, Pesach will begin on Wednesday night, April 8, 2020. In preparation for that day, I am thinking a lot about charoset. Charoset is one of the fabulous unique flavours we have on that most special night. Maybe it’s an escape, but at least it’s an innocent escape.
Charoset (חרוסת) is a sweet brown paste generally made of fruits, nuts, wine, and spices. The word Charoset may be from the word cheres- חרס, the Hebrew word for clay. The brown sticky spread is designed to remind us of the mortar that the enslaved Israelites used in ancient Egypt. There are many recipes from all over the world each delicious in its own right.
Ashkenazi Jews from eastern Europe tend to have a charoset made of chopped apples, chopped walnuts, cinnamon, sweet red wine and honey. Whether your family came from Russia, Poland, Romania or Hungary, they probably made it that way and that’s what you grew up eating at your seder table.
Mizrachi Jews – whose families come from the Middle East and North Africa Have many different recipes. It seems that each community made its own style of charoset, one that is very different from the Ashkenazi flavour.
Hardy apples walnuts are the main ingredients in the European version. Dates are a staple in the Arab world, and so they are found in nearly every Mizrachi recipe. The European version uses cinnamon as its spice. The Mizrachi flavours include ginger, cardamon, and nutmeg. The Eastern charoset recipes will use pistachios, almonds, pine nuts and/or hazelnuts in the mix.
Each year I make a few different recipes for charoset. I do the traditional Ahkenazi flavour, a Mizrachi flavour, and my favourite- a Shir haShirim creation. Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs), is read on the Shabbat during Pesach. It is a very romantic love song which describes two lovers seeking and longing for each other. (In traditional Judaism it is regarded as an allegory for God’s love toward the Jewish people.) Throughout this love poem there are numerous descriptions of nature. One of my favourite verses describes the scent of spices wafting on the soft breezes. Rabbi Yitzchak Luria from Tzfat, who lived in the 16th Century suggested making charoset from the nuts, fruits, and spices mentioned in the Song of Songs.
Over each of the next weeks leading up to Pesach I will include a recipe from another culture. Below I have listed the fruits, nuts and spices mentioned in Shir haShirim (Song of Songs) with their sources- you can create your own recipe. I have also included the traditional Ashkenazi recipe.If you want to send on YOUR charoset recipe it would be lovely to find out what you do.
Stay safe, and be healthy. This too shall pass. Have a good week and a good Shabbat, Laya
Ingredients for a Shir haShirim Charoset (with quotations from the original text. )
- APPLES 2:3 Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men.
- APPLES 2:5 Feed me with dainties, refresh me with apples
- FIGS 2:13 The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
- POMEGRANATE 4:13 Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates GRAPES 2:15 … our vineyards (grape vines) are in blossom.
- WALNUTS 6:11 I went down into the walnut grove…
- DATES 7:7 This thy stature is like to a palm-tree…
ADDITION OF WINE 1:2 For thy love is better than wine. SPICES 4: 13, 14 henna with spikenard plants, Spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spice
Traditional Ashkenazi Charoset
- 3 medium apples- Canadians prefer macintosh (!) peeled, cored, and finely diced
- 1 1/2 cups walnuts coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup sweet red wine
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon honey