Traditional family recipe makes holiday special.
There are few things that Melissa Krumbein enjoys more than cooking for her large family at the holidays. Add in the challenge of not using leavened products during Passover and the Richmond, Virginia-based caterer is truly in her happy place.
“There’s no reason to have a boring meal just because it’s Passover,” says Krumbein, who teaches at the Cooking School.
Observant Jews forgo leavened bread during this festival of freedom, which begins at sunset April 22 and continues through the 30th. The act is meant to remind them of the time when Jewish slaves fled Egypt in such haste that they had no time to bake traditional breads. Instead, they made flat matzo crackers, which remain a staple of Passover celebrations around the world.
The first two nights of Passover are ushered in with solemn seders, during which several aspects of bondage are recalled. Among them is the task of eating charoset, a sweetened apple and nut mixture that symbolizes construction mortar. While delicious on matzo, it’s a tasty year-round addition to yogurt or hot cereal.
Krumbein, who owns the Richmond dessert company Let’s Nosh, relies on a recipe first made by her husband’s grandmother, Lillian Gass Nerden. Born in 1910 to a Russian Jewish family that had immigrated to Orono, Maine, she was responsible for caring for her many siblings. Their tight bond lives on today in the family’s Cousin Club, which celebrates reunions across the country and in Canada.
“I can assure you that Lil never made a small quantity of charoset, as the holiday table was always full of aunts and uncles, cousins and friends,” Krumbein says. “Lil was a wonderful cook. Be sure to make extra, enough to last the week!”
Lil Nerden’s Charoset
6 red delicious apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
3 cups nuts, such as walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped
3 teaspoons sugar
1½ teaspoons Vietnamese cinnamon
6-7 tablespoons sweet red wine, such as Manischevitz (or Concord grape juice)
Hand-chop apples and nuts to a consistency like rough-cut mortar. Don’t use a food processor for this as the result will be too smooth.
Transfer apple-nut mixture and remaining ingredients, starting with 6 tablespoons wine, to a medium bowl. Stir to combine, adding more wine if needed. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing film to surface of charoset, and chill for at least an hour to let flavors blend. Bring to room temperature before serving.