Left in Andover: A personal Passover celebration

By Susan Leader
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The eight days of Passover celebrate the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Especially at this latitude, it is also a festive welcoming of spring, symbolizing rebirth and hope in the Jewish context.

The Passover ritual, held around the dinner table, is called a Seder, meaning order in Hebrew. In the center of the table is a special ceremonial plate featuring six symbolic foods, roasted egg, parsley, a shank bone, charoses and two kinds of bitter herbs. Each of these demonstrates an important facet of the Exodus, which is told by reading from a Haggadah.

The Seder plate made by Susan Leader.

When I was a child, these Haggadot were very dry booklets, given out for free by kosher food purveyors such as Manischewitz. In modern times, there has been a creative explosion in Haggadah texts. Ever since my kids were little, we have cobbled together readings, blessings and songs into our very own unique “Andover Haggadah”

When I was growing up, charoses was the ceremonial food that most captured my attention and taste buds. This thick sweet paste represents the clay out of which the Jews were forced to make bricks for the pharaoh. It is so delicious I always wondered why we didn’t eat it all year round. Even so, I don’t think I could stomach Ben & Jerry’s charoses flavor ice cream, introduced in 2015 to the Israeli market only.

There is no one recipe for charoses. In the Middle East it is made with dates and figs. My mother’s recipe was in the Ashkenazic — or northern Jewish European — tradition. As I recreate it each year, I refer to an infectious ditty she used to sing: “Nuts and apples, raisins sweet, make charoses what a treat. Add some wine, ready to dine!”

Ingredients for Susan’s charoses: hard apples, raisins, walnuts and juice.

Many families serve brisket as a main dish for the festive meal, which occurs late in the Seder. But, my family was vegetarian. We substituted a knobby stick for the ceremonial shank bone. Extra quantities of the symbolic foods, such as hard boiled eggs and charoses, constituted the full meal for us, along with all the buttered matzoh we could eat.

I have continued Mom’s tradition of making an extra big batch of charoses each year. I prefer mine not too complex, so I do not add honey or cinnamon to the mix, though some family members do. I grate the apples, hard ones preferred. Chop a bunch of raisins and walnuts. Mix all three ingredients together. Blenderize about a third of this mix with grape juice and/ or wine. Then mix the resultant paste with the remaining grated and chopped ingredients. This results in a chunky paste that gets tastier overnight as the ingredients meld.

Our Andover Haggadah.

As a potter, I relate especially to the creation of my charoses each year. The word derives from the Hebrew for clay, which is cheres. I give thanks that I can be a clay worker out of choice, not coercion.

In so doing, I also rejoice in the opportunity for the liberation of all peoples. Until we are all free, none of us are.

One of the most dramatic moments of any Seder is the recitation of the 10 plagues which were visited upon Egypt.

These included blood, frogs, lice, gnats, murrain, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and death. To this list it is acceptable to add a plague from one’s own time. I plan to add Covid this year.


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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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