As I began my passover planning this year, I thought it would be fun to add to the charoset selection I offer on the table. Charoset is the reddish-brown mixture that is part of the Seder plate of symbolic foods that help people remember the events in the story of the Jewish people leaving slavery in Egypt. The charoset is to remind us of the bricks and morter the slaves used in building. In Hebrew cheres means clay. There are some other interpretations, with scholars wondering why we would choose to symbolize our slavery with something sweet. I like the theory that the European tradition of using apples comes from the midrash (rabbinic story)that the Jewish women would meet their husbands in the apple orchards, in defiance of the Egyptian's rule that Jewish spouses be separated. The sephardic Jews use figs and dates, mentioned in the Song of Songs for their sexual symbolism as well.
In any case, I usually serve both the Ashkenazi charoset of apples, walnuts, cinnamon and wine; and also a Moroccan version of dates, figs, apricots, and pistachios.
Here's my general recipe that I got verbally --I tend to fiddle a bit till I get the taste and sweetness I want. Into the food processer goes:
1 cup pitted dates
4-5 dried figs
1 cup dried apricots
a pinch cinnamon
1/2 cup pistachios (imported are best, and necessary this year due to possible Salmonella contamination in the California crop)
sweet wine to taste, to loosen things up as needed.
I thought it would be interesting to find out what the Italian Jews used for charoset. I found many variations using all sorts of fruits and nuts, a Venetian one with almonds, figs and chestuts; but this one from Piemonte sounded most interesting:
From The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Rosen:
1/2 lb (250 g) cooked chestnuts
2/3 cup (125 g) blanched almonds
2 hard-boiled egg yolks
Grated zest of 1 orange
Juice of 1 orange
About 3/4 cup (175 ms) sweet red kosher wine
1/3 cup (75 g) sugar or more to taste
Boil the chestnuts for a minute or two, and drain. Grind the almonds fine in the food processor, then add the rest of the ingredients, including the chestnuts, and blend to a paste.