view from central park

Save the etrog! Keep the joy of Sukkot alive!


You know the scene from the movie “Back To The Future” where the lady is holding a can with a rattling coin, calling: “Save the clock tower! Save the clock tower!” Well, I don’t have a rattling can in hand, but I am chanting to you, “Save your etrogim! Save your etrogim!”

You can repurpose this special ritual citron fruit into a variety of unique and fragrant treats. There’s the classic glassine-clear and sticky etrog jam, to be used as part of an array of fruity Tu b’Shevat tastings. You can use it as an addition to a quince and citrus compote. Etrogim can be turned into candy, orangettes style, so I guess etrogettes would be more apt. Then there are the spirits — you can prepare a Jewish etrog-infused Limoncello as an aperitif for Shabbat. Or even etrog-scented oils.

I’ve known someone who infused rock salt with an etrog and used it for fish, as a substitute for lemon salt.

There are many recipes out there for etrog cakes, too.

The most famous way of repurposing the etrog is to use it at the conclusion of Shabbat for besamim or spices at Havdalah, inhaling its lovely and intoxicating fragrance as you transition from Shabbat to the working week.

However you choose to use your etrog, especially if you prepare it as an edible and will be using its rind, be sure and clean the etrog thoroughly. Since Sukkot etrogim are grown for their beauty, used as an ornamental fruit rather than for consumption, they are drenched with pesticides. Then think about the etrog from the time it is grown to how many hands it passes through until it arrives for Sukkot, and the etrog is still so beautiful. That is due to the tremendous amount of chemicals. So you can’t rinse and soak an etrog enough, not only to remove its bitterness, but also and perhaps even primarily to strip it of all those chemicals. We’re talking a couple of weeks or even up to a month of twice weekly soaking, rinsing and re-soaking the etrog. It takes some planning, but it is worth it!

For etrog schnapps, it’s a matter of soaking the cleaned peels or just the fruit in 80 proof vodka, sealed in a dark place for about a month until it emanates a fruity etrog aroma. Discard the etrog. Then you add a generous dose of sugar and a little more vodka. Keep storing it, sealed, for about another month or so, at least. Shake it vigorously. Then, l’chaim! Enjoy!

For a compote, along with an equal ratio of apples or pears (whatever autumn fruit you like, really), quince (kvittyn as it is known in Yiddish and chavush in Hebrew), oranges and lemons, add an equal ratio of etrog to sugar syrup made of boiling water and sugar. Cook it low and slow. Voila! You’ve got yourself not only a delicious autumn compote but also a dish that is so aromatic.

The Tu b’Shevat etrog jam is prepared similarly, although in most recipes the etrog is the starring fruit alone, with no supporting etrocharacters. And instead of cubing the fruit, you slice the etrog thinly.

Also, watch the pot carefully. If the etrog seems to be scorching a bit, unlike with a fruit compote where you might add a bit of water, here don’t add any water; remember, you are going for a jelly consistency. Just lower the flame if need be. Also, since it is a jam, you will use more sugar than in a compote — approximately an even ratio of fruit to sugar.

Be sure to include the seeds as a natural pectin, not to mention the rustic flair and charm it gives the jam. You’ll see, it will have an amber gold stained glass window quality. Beautiful and delicious.

For candy, although I haven’t personally ever made it, I would follow a classic orangette candy recipe, just substituting etrog rind. I bet it’s delicious. This year might just be my first time experimenting with it. I would keep a stash and use it as I have orangettes, for infusing in tea in the winter or for other cooking or baking recipes. Of course you can always just snack on them as they are!

I have also never prepared the scented oils before, but apparently soaking and storing etrog zest in almond and olive oil makes for quite the perfume. I look forward to experimenting with these two new etrog creations, both the elixir and the candy.

In my parents’ home, the Havdalah spices were always the classic etrog repurposing. Each week as Shabbat came to a close, a piece of Sukkot was there with us. In a small oval-shaped deep wheat-colored wicker lay the etrog, or some years more than one, nestled on a bed of crushed myrtle (hadasim) leaves. That fragrance. Ah, the fragrance.

For many years, we studded the etrog with cloves. At the end of Sukkot it was one of us kids’ jobs to pierce the etrog with the tine of a fork, and poke little cloves into the marked etrog. It was our treasure trove of Sukkot. The secret is not to push the cloves in too deeply, else you risk mold. From week to week we would see the etrog get drier and drier, shrink more and more, as the etrog kept closing in on the cloves and giving them a tighter and tighter place. They would release the scent of the cloves and that pungent clove mixed with the crushed perfume of the hadasim leaves and the ethereal etrog became the heady fragrance at our departure from Shabbat.

As the years have passed, somehow the cloves got dropped, and now it’s just the plain dried etrog over the crushed hadasim, yet it is still so fragrant.

So, save that etrog! Make something special with it to preserve the joy of Sukkot throughout the year, not to mention to enjoy the heavenly fragrant etrog perfume.

This year I might have to just save the seeds and finally plant my own etrog tree! Then I won’t have to urge everyone, “Save your etrogim!”

Copyright Intermountain Jewish News