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Everything's Coming Up Etrog!
Sukkot in Jerusalem is an especially festive holiday. Everywhere you look you can spy these charming booths, sometimes precariously perched atop open porches. During the week, families from all over the country flock to the Western Wall, often carefully carrying their four species, fulfilling the commandment of, "And you should take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of the hadar, branches of palm trees and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before God seven days" (Leviticus 23:40).
The Torah explicitly calls the esrog (or etrog) "a fruit of the tree hadar," beautiful and stately.
A fresh etrog (or "citron," as it's also called) looks like an enlarged, thick-skinned lemon, in both shape and color. Scrape away a bit of the zest and you'll find a heady citrus bouquet, reminiscent of lemons and limes. The esrog is not particularly juicy nor filled with usable pulp.
The peel is a fairly important article in international trade. Candied, it is widely employed in the food industry, especially as an ingredient in fruit cake, plum pudding, buns and sweet rolls.
It seems that the whole world knows of the esrog -- I mean, "citron." The fruit of the wild Chhangura is pickled in India. In Indonesia, citron peel is eaten raw with rice. In Guatemala, it's used as flavoring for carbonated soft-drinks. In Malaya, citron juice is used as a substitute for the juice of imported and expensive lemons. A product called "citron water" is made in Barbados and shipped to France for flavoring wine and vermouth.
The Chinese and Japanese prize the citron for its fragrance, and it is a common practice in central and northern China to carry a ripe fruit in the hand or place the fruit in a dish on a table to perfume the air of a room. The dried fruits are put with stored clothing to repel moths. In southern China, the juice is used to wash fine linen. Formerly, the essential oil was distilled from the peel for use in perfumery.
But back to our own esrogim.
What can one do with this unique fruit after Sukkot is over? Some people cover the surface of the esrog with aromatic cloves and use this throughout the year as a spice-holder for the Havdalah service; others have the custom to collect dozens of esrogim and to candy their tart fruit to be served on Tu B'Shevat -- the new year for fruit trees.
My neighbor is lucky enough to have an esrog tree. A couple of months ago, she challenged me to find its four nascent esrogim -- and I was stumped! Upon first glance, the baby esrogim look exactly like the leaves. The stems of the esrogim have numerous thorns, making us wonder how they can be easily picked.
She reports that the tree must be watered every day from the first of the month of Sivan (a few days before the holiday of Shavuot) onward. Often, the resultant esrogim are unfit for ritual use, but she makes delicious, fragrant esrog marmalade every year.
The rebbetzin who gave us the recipe below said that eating the esrog jelly is an omen for sweet and beautiful children, beneficial also in the ninth month of pregnancy and as labor begins.
Oranges can be added if there aren't enough esrogim.
esrogim (or half oranges)
Peel the esrogim, trying not to get any of the white pith. Peel away and discard the white pith.
Remove the pips (there are many) and place in a muslin bag.
Cut the esrog flesh in thin slices (easier in a food processor, according to my neighbor).
If adding oranges, the preparation process of the fruit is exactly the same.
Put peels, flesh and muslin bag in a stainless steel or glass container. Cover with water and let stand overnight.
Pour off water. Add enough fresh water to cover.
Bring to a boil.
Drain off water once again, cover with fresh water, bring to the boil with the pips and simmer slowly until the peel is soft. Discard pips.
Measure the cooked fruit and liquid. Add 1 cup sugar for each cup of fruit and liquid. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved.
Cook the boiling mixture to the gel stage of 220° to 222°.
Have jars clean and hot.
Pack to within 1/4 inch of top, and seal.
Heat process for 6 minutes in boiling water bath canner (for example, 10 minutes for cold, unsterile jars).
Count time from when water returns to a boil.
Rivka Tal is a food writer based in Jerusalem.