Although most, if not all, Jewish holiday meals use certain foods and dishes to symbolize various elements of the celebration, the seder meal does so in a way that is integral to the ritual of the meal itself. From the maror to the zeroah, each has its place in the structure of the seder. Of all these symbolic foods, charoset is definitely my favorite and I have to agree with Gil Marks when he says in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food that it “is unquestionably the most flavorful and arguably everyone’s favorite of the seder foods.”
In the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, Gil Marks explains that charoset was widely used within the Jewish community at the time of the Mishnah, around 200 CE. As with many of the elements of the seder meal, the custom of including charoset in Passover celebrations was influenced by the practices of the Greco-Roman nobility two thousand years ago. The Roman elite would have a dressing or condiment to accompany the greens they ate at their meals and, in turn, charoset was most probably modeled upon the fruit relishes that were served at Roman symposiums. Thus, coupled with the customs of dipping the karpas at the beginning of the seder as well as reclining during the seder, the charoset is used to create a feeling of affluence and uniqueness.
Although most people are probably most familiar with traditional Ashkenazic charoset made of apples, walnuts, honey, cinnamon and sweet red wine or grape juice, there are many other charoset recipes that reflect the places around the world where Jews have settled. One can find Persian, Italian and even Surinam charoset (these recipes can be found at Jewesses with Attitude), and use a variety of ingredients such as chestnuts, grated coconut and ground cardamom. These different varieties of charoset are a great way to bring a taste of these various Jewish communities to your seder table alongside your own family’s traditional charoset.
Photo courtesy of Elana’s Pantry.