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Power of past   flavors present

 Joan 2 1/2  7 year old Nate Levine enjoy Miriam Cup chocolate pops with their parents David Michelle.

Joan, 2 1/2, and 7 year old Nate Levine enjoy Miriam Cup chocolate pops with their parents, David and Michelle. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media

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Regardless of the rule forbidding leavening ingredients, Passover, one of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays, has inspired more than its share of delicious recipes, sweet and savory.

Charoset is a prime example. Like most traditional Passover dishes, it is steeped in symbolism. Charoset’s grated apples are mixed with nuts, sweet wine, nutmeg, ginger and sugar to symbolize the clay and mortar enslaved Jews used to make bricks to build cities in ancient Egypt.

Recounting their story of endurance and survival is a lesson annually revisited at Passover.

These are the stories David Levine remembers learning while growing up in Morton Grove. He cherishes those memories, as well as the happy times when his grandmother, Skokie resident Fay Zelman, would make charoset in the Levine kitchen for the entire family on special holidays like Passover.

“I never appreciated the tradition while growing up,” Levine said. “But now that I make it with my own kids (Nate and Joan), I realize the significance.”

The recipe his grandmother used was handed down from her mother. Of the 10 children Levine’s great-grandmother bore in Eastern Europe in the 1930s, only three survived the Holocaust. One of those was his grandmother, Fay.

Like so many heirloom recipes, the family’s charoset preparation is based more on culinary instincts than exact measurements. “The ingredients vary every time,” Levine explained. “For instance, there are times when apples taste sweeter and less sugar is needed. The key is to use fresh walnuts.”

And Levine should know. He and his wife, Melissa, own Illinois Nut & Candy in Skokie.

This year, along with plenty of walnuts for making charoset, Levine, “The Candy Man,” unveiled a Kos Miriam molded chocolate for Passover 2012.

As steeped in symbolism as charoset, this is a cup that represents Miriam, the heroic sister who saved her brother Moses from death as an infant by hiding him in a basket and arranging for Pharoah’s daughter to find him. She then also “arranged” that their mother be installed as the baby’s nurse, ensuring that he grew up to know his Jewish heritage and become a leader of his people.

Miriam also was, according to tradition, associated with the finding of wells during the Jewish trek to the Holy Land. At the Passover Seder, a cup is filled with water to remember Miriam at the well. Her story is recalled in honor of all Jewish women.

Chocolate molds unveiled in previous years, including one of the 10 plagues and another of the four sons, also are available at Illinois Nut & Candy for Passover treats, as will matzo covered in chocolate and sprinkled with nuts or sprinkles.

For Sun-Times Media

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