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Chop Chop Chop

April 17, 2014

There’s some old business to settle before we get started today.

First, happy sixth birthday to All Over Albany. Last night they had a birthday party, and I really missed getting to help them celebrate their continued positive impact on the Capital Region in person. Greg and Mary serve an amazing community of readers that are really helping to breathe some new life into a very old part of the state.

Second, I want to make sure you have marked your calendars for Sunday, April 27 for the Tour de FroYo. Details are coming soon. But these things are always fun and the more the merrier.

Can griping about Passover be considered new news? No? Okay, then I’ll try to keep it positive with a reflection on two things. Because at the annual festive meal I realized something. There is one morsel consumed almost every year that is filled with more taste memory than any other. And one of its critical components can never really be made from a recipe.

Oddly, the above can actually refer to many different things.

Parsley is dipped into salt water to symbolize both spring and the tears our ancestors shed in slavery. When instructing my sister on how to make the salt water I didn’t give her any measurements. I just kept telling her to taste it until it had the salinity of tears.

But it’s also customary for a hard boiled egg to be served in the same salt water. It’s a favorite part of the meal for many people because it’s often the first substantial food you get to put in your mouth after a sometimes interminable reading from the haggadah.

Matzoh ball soup is also very traditional, and while ADS makes soup from a recipe, I’m guessing most people just wing it. I know I do.

Still, what I’m thinking about is something entirely different.

There is that first nibble of matzoh. But rather than bringing back positive memories of passovers past, it really just recalls the drudgery of a week’s worth of matzoh. Plus there is nothing made at home for that morsel. The parsley dipped in salt water isn’t bad. However I never really enjoyed it as a kid, so it doesn’t quite rekindle the same depth of memory.

No. That is reserved for the Hillel sandwich. For the uninitiated, that is the brilliant invention that combines charoset with horseradish in between two pieces of matzoh. The best way to describe the charoset traditionally made in America is with a song:

Make charoset, chop, chop, chop,
Apples, nuts, and cinnamon.
Add some wine it’s lots of fun.
Make charoset, chop, chop, chop.

That’s it. Yes, there is a much more complex middle eastern version of this dish, which is arguably better. Who am I kidding? It’s totally better. However the one from the song is the one that brings back the memories of my youth. But mostly when it comes in the form of the Hillel sandwich.

Charoset is sweet and a little juicy. It helps to take a little of the burn out of the horseradish. And in return, the sharpness of the horseradish brings a lot more complexity to the equation. Putting such juicy and flavorful elements inside a sandwich of effectively a dry and bland cracker creates a symphony of contrasts.

When I was a kid, I would make charoset with my mother. She had this hand chopper and a wood bowl, and I’d keep chopping away at the contents until they were the right texture. We would taste as we went, adding more apples, walnuts, cinnamon or wine as needed.

That was a lot of fun. Today I use my Cuisinart food processor. And it’s trickier than one might think. It’s important to get the ingredients chopped quite fine, but not to be completely obliterated.

My feeling is that it’s unwise to do the walnuts and the apples together in the machine. So I do the nuts first and dump them into a bowl. Second are the apples. And when everything is chopped, I work on melding everything together.

Just like I did when I was a kid, I taste as I go, until it’s right. Usually I end up with extra chopped walnuts, and that’s fine. They will get used up as a yogurt topping or eaten out of hand with some dark chocolate.

This may be the first year however, that I made a second batch of charoset after the seder. Mrs. Fussy really loves the stuff and is trying to eat healthier. Fruit and nuts are probably better than matzoh and eggs cooked in butter and drowned in maple syrup.

But in years past I would wake up to her having already made a pan of matzoh brie. Sigh. That too can really be a taste that brings me back. I guess if I want to eat some, I’ll just have to make it myself.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 17, 2014 10:09 am

    “It’s a favorite part of the meal for many people because it’s often the first substantial food you get to put in your mouth after a sometimes interminable reading from the haggadah.” <— This reminds me of the first (and possibly last?) seder I was invited to as a kid. My friend's family invited my family over. Seder was later, we kids were starving, and it kept going on. I think we left halfway through since 3 kids under 6 complaining about how hungry they were was… not an ideal situation for either families.

    But still, Passover holds a special place in my heart. Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

  2. Jessica R permalink
    April 17, 2014 10:43 am

    What food processor model do you have/recommend?

  3. April 17, 2014 9:43 pm

    I haven’t been to a Seder in over 20 years, but I still remember that brisket. Damn, it was good. I’ve tried to duplicate it a few times but it was never as good as the memory.

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