Some of my favorite things about food are the history and traditions that lead to the creation and preservation of so many dishes. Many iconic foods stem from religion and the Jewish faith has many traditional dishes, each with massive significance to the culture. Passover is one of the largest Jewish celebrations and food plays a central role.
The Passover Seder table includes several foods of import. To name just a few: bitter herbs to symbolize the bitterness of slavery, unleavened matzah as “poor man’s bread”, salt water for tears shed, and haroset (or charoset) to represent the mortar used by Jewish slaves in their work. Haroset is a sweet paste of fruits and nuts eaten with bitter herbs on matzah.
While all haroset contains fruits and nuts, the types of fruits and nuts often differs according to the cook’s location. Europeans often use items like apples and walnuts while those in the Middle East incorporate local fruits like figs and dates. With local variations in mind, I set out to create a haroset that was both traditional, encompassing, and includes some local Oregon fare.
I wanted to include some fruits and nuts often found in traditional haroset recipes. Middle Eastern flavors are some of my favorites so I chose chopped walnuts, dried dates and figs, and (a personal favorite) pomegranate molasses. Pomegranate molasses is made from the juice of pomegranates, sweetened and reduced into a thick syrup. It’s sweet, it’s tangy, it’s perfect.
Many traditional haroset ingredients are native to Oregon. Oregon is known for its grapes and wine. Raisins impart sweetness while wine adds great depth of flavor and just the right amount of liquid to plump and infuse the dried fruits. Mount Hood is ideal tree fruit country and our apples reach grocers around the US. Pumpkins are a successful Oregon crop and hazelnut orchards (real Oregonians call them filberts, FYI) are all over the Willamette Valley!
A bit of chopping and a 15 minute steep is all it takes to whip up a batch of haroset. If you won’t find yourself around a Seder table this year, there’s no reason not to make a batch, anyway. The fruit and nut blend works the meal, from an accompaniment to grilled meat or roasted root veggies, to a simple tart filling or topped with vanilla ice cream. Or, like me, holding the fridge door open, eating right out of the container.