The tastes of Passover
Gefilte fish is something that, if you did not grow up eating it, there is little reason to start. A traditional Passover food, it is basically boiled white fish, chopped and formed into patties, served cold with cold gelled chicken broth. Kind of like a cold, naked fish sandwich, minus the bun, the pickle and the tartar sauce. Fortunately, horseradish is a traditional condiment for gefilte fish, and if you load enough onto your fork, it does help the fish go down.
However, haroses is delicious. My husband, who is not Jewish, never tasted this Passover condiment until he met me. But it is a favorite of his now, and he would eat it year ’round.
In the Passover seder, haroses signifies the mud and straw from which Hebrew slaves made bricks for Pharaoh’s cities. There are many versions of the dish. Sephardic haroses is made with dates and honey. Persian haroses includes pomegranate. But the simplest, traditional haroses involves only three or four ingredients. Begin by chopping apples and walnuts, then add some cinnamon and enough sweet wine (kosher wine works best) to moisten the mixture (it shouldn’t be too wet). That’s it.
Horseradish also figures significantly in the enjoyment of haroses, making for an unlikely but delicious combination. Take a square of matzo and break off a piece. Take a teaspoon or so of haroses and pile it on top. Then on top of that, put a dab of horseradish. This is called a Hillel sandwich.
It is delicious, I promise. Unlike gefilte fish, it is worth trying even if you never tasted it before.
Passover this year began at sundown on April 3. It has been a different holiday for me this year. For my entire life, from childhood on, we attended the Passover seder at the home of my mother’s cousin. In my childhood, we filled a big table. Surrounded by cousins, aunts and uncles, we took turns reading portions of the Exodus story, which is the history that Passover celebrates. We ate and laughed, and afterward, my dad would lead the family sing-along with his guitar.
Then all the children would run around and search for the afikomen, which is a piece of matzo that is wrapped up and hidden before the meal. We’d look under couch cushions and in stacks of newspaper, and in places where we had looked unsuccessfully already, hoping the wrapped matzo would magically appear. Eventually it would be found and silver dollars would be awarded to everyone who had hunted.
This year, it will all be different. It will be just my husband, my son and me at the kitchen table in my house. Cousins have grown and scattered, my parents are traveling, my sister lives many states away. Fortunately, it is not a long drive from Morgantown, where my son is a college senior. He will come home for the weekend and be able to also celebrate Easter with his grandmother.
As the youngest at the seder table, my son will be tasked with asking the ritual four questions, which begin, “Why is this night different from all other nights.” We will recount again the story of slavery and freedom, and the miraculous giving of the Law on a mountaintop signaled by a burning bush.
We will pour a special glass of wine and open the door for the prophet, Elijah, whose coming announces the day when all peoples of the world live in peace. But since all the cousins are grown and gone, and my son is now an adult, we will skip hiding and searching for the afikomen.