737. Curaçao Passover Charoset

Last week I found myself making a Passover favorite, Garosa (Charoset), just like my mama and her mama and her mama and her mama before her. Meant to symbolize the sticky-and-strong mortar Hebrew slaves used to build clay bricks in Egypt (Hebrew for clay is charsis or ceres), the preeminent Spanish Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides gives us one of the first written recipes for charoset in the 11th century: crush “dates, dried figs, or raisins and the like…add vinegar, and mix them with spices.” Charoset’s sweetness is meant to offset the bitter herbs (maror) during Passover Seder. What can I say, we Jews like to take the bitter with the sweet!

Unlike the more traditional Ashkenazi apples and walnuts, Curaçao’s Sephardic Charoset resembles Maimonides’, and consists of a variety of ground fruits and nuts shaped into balls and rolled in cinnamon. (It was a *huge* hit at my predominantly Ashkenazi Seder in NYC) and I truly felt like I was carrying the weight of my ancestry on my shoulders while making and sharing it (it doesn’t help that some say my brother and I are the last ‘pure-bred’ Curaçao Sephardic descendants of the first 17/18th century Spanish Portuguese Jewish settlers)

My cousin, Gidi, shares my Sephardic heritage, but lives in Amsterdam (5 hours ahead). She texted me on the first day of Passover: “if the Israelites had to make our Charoset we’d all still be stuck in Egypt! My poor Kitchenaid overheated a bunch of times crunching all those dates, figs, prunes!” (Truth be told, my Cuisinart was out of commission from last year’s intense grinding, so I had to go out and get a new one; this KitchenAid worked well for me) Regardless of your chopper or food processor, make sure you heed Gidi’s sage advice and ‘grease’ with a little Manischewitz wine or lime juice pre-grinding… (the dates are particularly tricky!)

So here goes the age-old recipe:

1/2 lb. pitted dates

1/2 lb. pitted prunes

1/2 lb. raisins

1/2 lb. figs

1/4 cup lemon or orange peel

2 lbs. unsalted peanuts

1/2 lb. unsalted cashew nuts (optional; I left them out)

1 lb. dark brown sugar

1/2 cup honey

2 to 3 tablespoons cinnamon plus extra for coating

2 jiggers Kosher wine

1/4 cup orange and lime juice or watermelon and tamarind juice, if available

1. Grind fruits and nuts.

2. Add sugar, honey, cinnamon, wine and juices to form a moist but firm mixture.

3. Roll into balls (about 1″ in diameter) and coat with cinnamon. Ideally a communal (female) ball rolling effort, so be sure to get your sisters, mother(s), daughters, cousins involved! Men and boys are welcome too! Or share your progress over text / Skype like Gidi and I did…Recipe yields about 5 dozen (I halved the ingredients) 

Our Charoset keeps well and can be made weeks in advance of Passover, just place in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. Recipe source: The Sisterhood of the Mikvé Israel-EmanuelRecipes from the Jewish Kitchens of Curaçao. Curaçao, 2006.

While I was making (and tasting) our Charoset it occured to me that our main ingredients (prunes, raisins, dates, figs, nuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, brandy, Spanish wine) resemble Curaçao-wide special occasion staple: Bolo Pretu!!!

Literally ‘Black’ Cake, often referred to as ‘Bride’s Fruit Cake’ or ‘Dark Fruit Cake’, there’s even an expression ‘mi tei manera bolo!’ (literally: ‘I’m there like bolo!’ / ‘Wouldn’t miss it for the world!’). Our Bolo Pretu is more involved than birthday cake and tastes best when prepared 6 months ahead of serving to allow optimal fermentation. Unlike our balled up Charoset, we tend to cut Bolo Pretu into small squares (2″ by 2″) and stick them in decorative boxes to mark once in-a-lifetime events such as baptisms, first communions, weddings.

Needless to say, Bolo Pretu brings people together in celebration of love and unity. So does Charoset. Jill Hammer, rabbi and director of spiritual education at the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York, explains, “Charoset is a dual symbol of birth and death, freedom and oppression,” the remembrance of what binds “the Jewish story with the story of all living things… a kind of mortar after all.” 

Though I’m convinced our Sephardic Jewish kitchen has had widespread influence on our traditional island cuisine (note our Boyo di Pan), I have yet to find empirical evidence to support cross-pollination between these two yummy recipes. So please bare with me and stay tuned! 🙂

Bolo Pretu Recipe


1 pound of nuts
3 cups of sugar
1 pound of figs
1 pound of citron
1 pound of almonds
1-1/2 pound of raisins
2 pounds of currants
2 pounds of glazed mixed
1-1/2 pound of pitted dates
3 pounds of pitted prunes

2 tablespoons of
Angostura Bitters
1/2 bottle of brandy
1/2 bottle of apricot
or marachino brandy
1/2 bottle of vermouth
2 cups of cherry cordial
1 bottle of Curacao liqueur
bottle of rum

1/2 teaspoon of mace
2 teaspoons of nutmeg
1 teaspoon of cardamon
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
2 teaspoons of all-spice

12 eggs
1 pound of butter
1 pound of flour with
1 pound of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of baking powder


First cook the prunes with sugar to a jam. Grind all other fruits and nuts together. Take the ground fruits and nuts and soak in some brandy for at least a week or two. Add some of the liquor as the days progress. 

Steep spices in a jigger of brandy for one week. Cream butter and add beaten eggs. Alternate adding fruit and liquor. Add the flour last and bake mixture in a 2″ greased baking sheet lined with wax paper in 325 F. for about 2 hours (Add a pan of water on the bottom of the oven).

Cool thoroughly and remove from pan. Store in such a manner that cakes can be turned every few days for the liquor to saturate the cake. 

A day or 2 before the wedding, cut the cake into squares, wrap in wax paper and place in a small decorated box for your guests to take home.

Commercial Bolo Pretu sold at grocery stores and specialty shops.

Commercial ‘Bolo Pretu’ sold at grocery stores and specialty shops.

About 1000awesomethingsaboutcuracao

I'm Carolina Gomes-Casseres, the creator of 1000 Awesome Things About Curaçao. I live in Manhattan but sometimes miss my first awesome island. Thanks for visiting!


  1. The Charoset look so delicious, especially with all of the cinnamon. I haven’t heard of them before, but I wish I could try one now!

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  5. Great recipes. You can check out our website for more passover items via questgiftonline.com

  6. mabel

    Danki. mi tabata buska recept di bojo di pan Y di bolo pretu. Mi a kaba di traha e bojo di pan ora e sali for di fornu mi ta laga bo sa kon ela sali.
    mi ta spera bo ta kompronde papiamentu.
    ami ta biba na Texas. THANKS A BUNCH/

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