Every Passover, Joan Nathan’s Seder includes this classic haroset

Editor’s note: The following is an edited excerpt from “My Life in Recipes: Food, Family, and Memories” by Joan Nathan (Knopf, 2024).

My late husband, Allan, and I hosted our first Passover Seder in 1980. At the time, my eldest daughter was only 2 years old, and my in-laws were staying with us. Little did we know that Allan and I were embarking on a tradition that would last for the next 39 years of our lives together.

The Seder can go on for hours, so through the years, we, like so many others, have tried to include events to sustain everyone’s attention, especially the children’s.

Get the recipe: Apple and Nut Haroset

What makes our Seder different from others is the play our family has now done for more than 40 years. It is always the same: God, sheep, grown Moses, baby Moses, Miriam, and Aaron and his siblings. The children leave the table a little after the main course to rehearse and raid our closet for costumes. Although it used to be only children acting, many of the “children” are now in their 40s, and some guests, in their 90s, also perform. It is always the same, always hilarious, and the crowning joy for all of us.

I remember one year, when the play was over, this crowd had become a community, and there was silence. I sensed that no one wanted the evening to stop. It wasn’t just a dinner party. It was a sacred space, and I loved it. Even though many of our participants are gone now, I feel they will live on in the stories told and the strength we take from the lives they lived — from Allan’s uncle Henik, who celebrated life after being in Auschwitz, to Allan himself, who was the leader of our Seder and my partner in life for so many years.

Since the mid-1970s, I have been writing about Passover every year for various media outlets. Through the years, I’d go out to a second Seder because our family’s custom is to host only the first night. As a result, I have observed so many traditions new to me, like that of Persian Jews, who hit each other with scallions during the service, or Iraqi Jews, who put on a play in which the children pretend to be paupers, with sacks on their backs holding matzoh wrapped in handkerchiefs. The leader asks where they have come from and where they are going. They say they were slaves in Egypt and are going to freedom in Jerusalem. I especially like the marvelous Moroccan custom of holding the Seder plate over every guest’s head so that each will relive the Exodus, feeling he is personally going from slavery to freedom.

As I learned these customs and the delicious foods that accompanied them, so different from my own, I wanted to share the knowledge I had gained. I had an idea to make what became known as “Passover: Traditions of Freedom,” now an evergreen documentary, aired in 1998 by Maryland Public Television and around America for a whopping 12 years. To make the film, which I produced with Charles Pinsky, we and the crew went to Israel and replicated a very early Seder, but not in Jerusalem. Instead, our Seder took place in a Bedouin village where, to this day, when they slaughter a lamb or goat, they rub their tent post with the blood to keep away the evil spirits.

The Bedouins also made bread for us as visitors — from flour and water, no leavening. Why not? They explained — through the Bedouin expert Clinton Bailey, our translator, and the person who brought us to this village — that they wanted to give guests nothing but pure food, and yeast was a contamination, of civilization and cities. Therefore, they mixed the flour and water, quickly rolled out what became a very thin round dough, and slapped it onto the sides of a taboun oven (which looked like an upside-down wok) to bake. It was delicious, and similar in shape to what we know as shmura matzoh.

Throughout my adult life, I have put several haroset dips on the table as a first course, to be eaten symbolically with bitter herbs on the matzoh, called the Hillel sandwich. Each dip is different, depending on its geographical and historical journey to our table, and I try to tell its story as part of our Seder. This is truly one of the most awesome aspects of the historical dinner, once held outside, on the hillside in Jerusalem, with a lamb roasted before dawn, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs, as stated in the book of Exodus. To me, haroset, although it is not mentioned in the Torah, explains more than any other food the wandering of the Jewish people in a Diaspora that extends around the world.

I try to serve at least three, sometimes five, varieties of haroset. The oldest is probably the Iraqi date syrup sometimes served with walnuts, which represents Jews who come from throughout the Middle East. Many years ago, I watched Bombay-born Mozelle Sofaer, who as a volunteer for Gandhi took him messages in prison, and her husband, David Meyer Sofaer, born in Rangoon, slowly cook down the dates with a little anise in a large pot, then strain them in cheesecloth all day, resulting in a smooth, thick, sweet silan, or date molasses — the original honey in the “land of milk and honey.” You can now buy it already prepared. I love it throughout the year, especially with halvah and ice cream.

Of all the haroset recipes out there, a paste made from apples, nuts, sweet wine and cinnamon is classic for most American Jews and the most beloved. As a child, I helped my mother chop the apples and nuts in a wooden bowl with a chopper; now I pulse them in a food processor. When my children were growing up, I’d leave some of the apples for them to cut with the chopper, to share in that pre-food-processor experience. My mother-in-law used to chop them very finely. My family preferred haroset chunkier, the way I make it to this day. The only thing I do differently is toast the nuts and use local varietal apples.

Nathan is author of 12 books, including “Jewish Cooking in America” and “King Solomon’s Table.” She lives in Washington, D.C., and on Martha’s Vineyard.

Get the recipe: Apple and Nut Haroset

Source link

Next Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Welcome Back!

Login to your account below

Retrieve your password

Please enter your username or email address to reset your password.