Come Passover, whatever’s on a Sephardic Seder plate makes its way into the meal, too, and onto the table throughout the entire week. In my family, harosi is one of the holiday’s most treasured extended pleasures.
Making the harosi each year was one of my grandpa’s favorite cooking projects, as far back as I could remember and surely long before that. He made huge batches of it. Vats! At the Seder we always placed several generous bowls of it on the table, and later, on our way home, Papú would gift each of us a jar or two – personalized with our names, and swaddled lovingly in acres of paper towel and rubber bands – so we could each keep spreading the love throughout the weeklong holiday. We spread it on matza. We spread it on cake. On cheese. Over ice cream. On spoons – it’s great straight from the jar. Ottoman Sephardim already eat spoon sweets, and to us, harosi is one more.
Harosi represents the mortar used in building the Great Pyramids of Egypt. but please let any similarity stop there. As a little girl raised on Sephardic food, I was convinced that at the Ashkenazi religious school I attended, they believed the stuff needed to taste like mortar as much as look like it. Each year as part of our Passover lesson, they’d break out the paper plates and serve us a snack of grainy, grated apples, raw, wilted and brown from oxidation, with huge hunks of walnuts and waaay too much cinnamon. It never held together in any sense, and I truly didn’t mind whenever the dubious treat invariably fell from the matza and onto the floor. Even at five, six, seven years of age, in those moments I took great, if quiet, pride in the culinary distinction of my culture.
Granted, I don’t find my family’s harosi exactly gorgeous; there’s no way around it, you’re going to wind up with an opaque, purplish-brown mush. But it’s luscious and sweet, one of the unique, delicious foods of Passover. Savor it all week, with some cheese and a glass of chilled white, over ice cream or Greek yogurt, or straight from the spoon. If mortar really did taste like this, those Pyramids wouldn’t have had a chance.