A taste of Passover

Ingredients for haroset, a blend of fruit and nuts that symbolizes the mortar used to build the ancient pyramids in Egypt. —Jonathunder

Passover, the commemoration of the Israelites’ freedom from slavery in Egypt, starts Monday, April 18. Tradition is at the heart of this important Jewish holiday, whether traditional readings, games, songs, or foods — like haroset.

The following is excerpted from “The Children’s Jewish Holiday Kitchen” by Joan Nathan. Excerpted by permission of Schocken, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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.

Most people like their haroset recipe so well that it is not only spread on matzoh 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
Makes 3 cups

6 peeled apples, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup chopped almonds
3 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
grated rind of 1 lemon
4 tablespoon sweet red wine

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.

Egyptian Haroset
Makes 4 cups

1 pound raisins
8 ounces pitted dates
2 cups water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Cover raisins and dates with water; let stand 1 hour. Add the sugar and blend or food-process until roughly chopped. Transfer to a heavy saucepan and simmer 20 minutes or until fruits are cooked and water is absorbed. When cool, stir in chopped nuts.

Ms. Nathan, a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center who lives in Chilmark and Washington, D.C., has written 10 cookbooks, mostly about Jewish cooking, including “The New American Cooking” (2005). Her latest book, “Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous, My Search for Jewish Cooking in France” came out in November.