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Nuts, nuts, apples and wine: Hillel Goldberg’s charoset

Charoset, reminiscent of the mortar used to build the Pyramids, shaped like the Sphinx.FIRST, the good news: this charoset recipe yields scrumptious charoset.

Second, the better news: If you like charoset not just for the seders, but for the rest of Passover, this charoset will last all of Passover, just so it’s refrigerated.

Finally, the bad news: I cannot list the ingredients by quantity, and cannot set down a simple sequence of how this is done.

Why? Take this simple fact, for example. If I tell you to slice and peel so-and-so many apples, they will oxidize and turn brown while you’re measuring out the rest of the ingredients.

If you do the apples last, that won’t work either. Trust me, you’ll see.

Before I go further, it is my pleasure and honor to say that I received the basics of this recipe from my late grandmother, Minnie Harris, who died in 1978. No doubt, I’ve tweaked the recipe over the years, especially the order (or disorder) of preparation, but the credit goes to Grandma Minnie.

This is pure speculation, but maybe Grandma Minnie got this recipe from her mother, and she from hers. If that is so, this recipe goes back to Frankfurt, Germany, whence my great-great-grandparents came to America before the Civil War.

HERE’S the deal.

Gather some apples. Say, five to seven apples. Vary the kinds of apples. Don’t just stick to one kind. I use a bulk of Gala apples, then one or two (which may turn out to be one-and-a-half) green apples.

Have an apple corer ready. It cuts down on the time the apples are left out to oxidize.

Get a bottle or two of kosher grape juice. Make sure it is well chilled. Get one bottle of red wine, also well chilled.

Now, for the nuts, it gets complicated. You want mostly almonds, and these in two forms: ground and whole.

Add one bag of pecans, one bag of walnuts, and either some ground filberts or whole filberts.

Have your food processor ready, plus plenty of cinnamon.

I use a bowl with a flat bottom. Maybe this recipe will work just as well with a bowl with a round bottom. I don’t know. On that, you’re on your own.

Oh yes, and a couple of pieces of thick tin foil are needed for the end.

One more essential point: You need a partner. I can’t imagine this recipe working if you’re doing it by yourself. By using one of my children as a partner, I’ve found a way not just to get the recipe done, but to pass down my Grandma’s recipe to the next generation.

THIS is the key: a lot of this recipe is in parallel stages. You’re actually doing the same recipe many times over. As follows:

Start by pouring a little chilled kosher grape juice in the bottom of the bowl.

At the same time, have two plates ready to peel apples on. With two people peeling, the apples are less apt to turn brown.

Core the apples. Then slice them into very different pieces. A few large chunks, a greater number medium-sized pieces and many tiny pieces. Start with your preponderant apples. In my case, that’s the Gala apples.

Now, dump some smaller or medium pieces of apple into the bowl.

Add some ground almonds.

Pour liberal amounts of cinnamon over the whole thing.

At the point, this recipe is not for the squeamish. Your hands need to knead the charoset. Use plastic gloves.

With the initial mixture of grape juice, apple pieces, ground almonds and cinnamon just sitting there at the bottom of the bowl, mix it all up with your gloved hands.

This gives you a very thin, consistent mixture.

Consistency is just what you don’t want.

This means that on Round 2 of the ingredients, vary them.

• Add some larger slices of apples, not the tiny pieces.

• Go to the food processor and slice some whole almonds, but not finely. For that, you already have the processed, ground almonds. Slice your almonds until they’re cut in half, or maybe thirds. Then add these to the mixture.

• For now, add some more chilled grape juice (the wine comes in later).

• Again, add cinnamon.

By adding all these ingredients, your charoset-in-the-making will now be a bit more abundant, and should be more varied in consistency, with not only tiny pieces but chunks of apples; and not only ground almonds but noticeable pieces of almonds.

IT is critical to mix well. For all of its different ingredients, this charoset should come out as “one food,” a mosaic, not just a collection of different ingredients and pieces.

The extemporaneous nature of this recipe is now intensified. The goal is to get a very diverse, varied mixture. Perhaps you added a bit too much grape juice on the last round of ingredients and now your charoset-in-the-making seems like little more than a slightly thickened liquid. This means that on the next round of ingredients, you cut down on the grape juice.

Or maybe just the opposite. After the last round, perhaps your charoset-in-the-making is super thick. You can hardly tell you added any liquid at all. This means that on the next you add a lot more liquid.

The same goes for the apples and the nuts. After each round of ingredients, you are likely to notice some kind of imbalance. The charoset is too smooth, or too chunky. If too smooth, then on the next round of ingredients you need to add chunky pieces of apple and nuts from the food processor; if too chunky, then on the next round you need to add tiny pieces of apple and preprocessed ground nuts.

You’re remaking the charoset at each stage of the way.

That’s why it is impossible to list a simple quantity of apples, nuts and liquid for this recipe, or to mix them all up at once.

AFTER you’ve done a few rounds of these ingredients, you will want to substitute wine for the grape juice. The charoset should have a slight alcoholic quality to it. Not too much, but definitely noticeable.

You will also want to start using your other nuts. Almond is the basic flavor and taste, but far from the only one. The idea is to mix in the pecans, filberts and walnuts — both whole and ground — at successive stages. If you use up any one of these nuts in one single round of ingredients, it will be hard to get their taste suffused throughout the entire batch.

Now, as you add rounds of ingredients — with your partner, your assiduous apple peeler and slicer, working away — you will notice that as you add the grape juice or wine, it will simply sit on the top of your batch. This is not good. This is where your gloved hands come in. This is where it is not time to be squeamish.

Use your hands to dig a hole in the charoset, so to speak. Push in your whole fist until it reaches the bottom of the bowl.

Your charoset should now look like a vortex in a whirlpool — empty in the middle, with all the stuff around it, raised up.

So, on your next round of ingredients, you can pour the grape juice or wine (whichever you need at this stage) right into the vortex of the charoset.

The liquid will go straight to the bottom. Now mix well. The liquid will spread more or less evenly throughout the batch.

As you proceed to add ingredients stage by stage, all of the nuts tend to make the charoset too thick. If so, it’s necessary to add an exclusive dose of grape juice or wine to loosen it up.

OK. That’s it, basically. You’re recalculating at each round of ingredients whether your charoset is too thick or too thin, too smooth or too chunky, and you’re adjusting the next round of ingredients accordingly.

Remember to keep adding the cinnamon. It’s especially good to add when you’re making a “hole” in the charoset to add more liquid. Just as the liquid will then spread throughout the charoset as it’s mixed, so will the spice.

When you get to the end, and your bowl is almost full (it’s good to leave a quarter of an inch or so empty at the top), you’ll want to cover it with thick tin foil. Refrigerate the minute you’re done.

Don’t be surprised if you have some apple slices or nuts left over. Since it’s impossible to predict how much you need to advance to fill the bowl, leftovers are natural.

We’ve never had a Passover holiday when, on the last day of Passover, if somebody wanted charoset, it wasn’t edible and fresh. Just be sure to remix the smaller and smaller quantities as the holiday goes on.

Sometimes, it thickens by itself and you’ll need to add a tad more grape juice or wine as the holiday goes on.

Do me a favor. If you make this, tell me how it went.

And, remember to thank Grandma Minnie.

Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor |

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