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Today is the first day of Passover. The holiday began officially last night at sundown and Jewish families around the country — nay, around the world — celebrated with a Seder, the traditional Passover meal. The Passover Seder is the kind of tradition that people cling to; even if they participate in no other Jewish rituals for the rest of the year, most Jews attend a Passover Seder.
Although people are very attached to the Seder that they grew up with, it is a tradition that is eminently adaptable. My husband likes to tell the story of one memorable Passover while he was in law school: unable to go home due to a grueling exam schedule, he spent the first night of Passover at the suburban Detroit home of a friend. That Seder was the super-traditional kind with rows of tables and an old man mumbling Hebrew for much of the night. The next night, he attended a Seder at the apartment of a law school classmate. She used a Seder service prepared by an Ann Arbor feminist collective from the 70′s. Needless to say, that Seder had a very different feel.
Passover is my in-laws’ big holiday. We travel to their house every year to partake in a Seder ritual that is as finely tuned as a concert piano. Although my in-laws have been hosting a Passover Seder for as long as my husband can remember, and have many long-standing traditions, they are still open to changing things around to accommodate my kids. Recently, instead of a typical evening Seder, which can run late, they have moved their celebration to the middle of the day so that Zuzu and JR can join in without having to go to bed halfway through the meal. (Of course, Zuzu joins in enthusiastically while JR is only good for about 10 minutes of actual sitting at a table.)
It usually works out so that we are able to travel to my in-laws for their Seder and still host a Seder of our own back home. Hosting a Seder is important to me because it gives me an opportunity to honor my family’s Passover traditions, which were short on religion but long on good food. I am especially attached to my grandmother’s style of matzo balls, which is big and fluffy. (I have written about my love of matzo ball soup in both Chicago Parent magazine, and on my friend Kate’s blog, Savour-Fare.)
I have always loved to cook with my treasured family recipes, but in the seven years that I have been a parent of a child with food allergies, I have also learned to update traditions to accommodate my family’s particular needs. In some ways, Zuzu’s allergies have forced me to be a more creative cook and have enabled us, as a family, to put our own spin on family traditions. One of the traditional recipes that I have had to adapt due to Zuzu’s allergies is for charoset, the fruit and nut mixture that is a traditional part of the the Passover Seder. Our family are Eastern European, or Ashkenazi, Jews. Ashkenazi charoset is traditionally a chunky spread made with various nuts, apples, honey and wine. But Jews from the Mediterranean, known as Sephardic Jews, make a different kind of charoset that resembles a fruit paste. When I was faced with the idea of a nut-free charoset, I turned to the Sephardic tradition, which uses a lot of dried fruits, to come up with something delicious and safe. I consulted some recipes, checked out my pantry and thought about my daughter’s preferences. Eventually I came up with a charoset recipe all our own. Sure, I still serve my mother-in-law’s delicious walnut-almond-apple charoset — it wouldn’t be Passover without it. But I also proudly serve my own nut-free charoset, Zuzu’s charoset, that reflects our family’ commitment to making sure that Zuzu can participate in all of our traditions despite her food allergies.
To make my nut-free charoset, combine one peeled and cored apple with several handfuls of raisins, dried apricots, prunes and Craisins — I’m pretty sure that none of our European ancestors envisioned putting Craisins in charoset — and process in a food processor. Add honey and kosher red wine to taste. Enjoy!