A FRUIT­FUL EX­AM­I­NA­TION

The etrog — the most an­cient and sym­bolic of all cit­rus fruits — is a cru­cial part of Suc­cot. But what should you do with them af­ter the fes­ti­val is over? By Ruth Joseph

The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page -

A strictly-Or­tho­dox man checks an etrog for blem­ishes at a mar­ket in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim neigh­bour­hood, ahead of Suc­cot

IT’S A fas­ci­nat­ing fact that in the Mid­dle Ages, the hum­ble etrog be­came part of a peace treaty. Af­ter fight­ing and los­ing yet an­other war, the Repub­lic of Pisa was banned from trad­ing in et­rogim in 1329 by the Guelph League of Tus­cany, headed by Florence. Et­rogim or cit­rons had al­ways been valu­able, in fact, the Spanier mer­chants, from Frankfurt, be­came fa­mous for trad­ing in them. And this is strange when one con­sid­ers the etrog’s sour­ness and thick skin, in com­par­i­son with other cit­rus fruits. They also need more wa­ter than other fruit trees, so their value lies purely in prayer.

Leviti­cus 23:40 tells us, “On the first day you shall take to your­selves the fruit of the goodly tree, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees and wil­lows of the brook and you shall re­joice be­fore the Lord your God , seven days.’’ Here the goodly tree means the Etrog tree. But why “goodly”? Trans­lated it means, “un­cer­tain” in bib­li­cal He­brew while in Mod­ern He­brew it is, “cit­rus”.

Nev­er­the­less Jews be­lieve that be­cause the etrog is both fra­grant and has a taste, it is like a righ­teous per­son who stud­ies and per­forms good deeds. Some liken its shape to a heart: the orb of the world; that the etrog rep­re­sents man’s com­mon­sense. Al­though some sages be­lieve that the fig was the Tree of Knowl­edge, many con­sider that the etrog or cit­rus med­ica was that tree.

Cer­tainly it is one of the ear­li­est fruits brought from the east to the Mediter­ranean. The etrog is said to have orig­i­nated in Me­sopotamia in 4000 BCE and the an­cient Me­sopotami­ans rev­elled in the scent and the all-year beauty of the fruit.

The Egyp­tians used et­rogim for em­balm­ing, while the Ro­mans used them to fend off moths. And when the Jews were re­leased from cap­tiv­ity in Baby­lon, they car­ried them to Is­rael. Af­ter the Jewish re­bel­lion against Rome in 66CE, Jews were forced to scat­ter, tak­ing their pre­cious et­rogim with them.

But be­cause they pos­sessed knowl­edge of how to prop­a­gate th­ese plants, they be­came the first clas­si­cal gardeners de­vis­ing the cul­ti­va­tion of other cit­rus.

Now there are rig­or­ous stan­dards to en­sure that the fruit is per­fect; it must not be pierced or have black spots; and the tree must be older than three years. Some­times et­rogim have a nar­row­ing in the cen­tre. This is sat­is­fac­tory. But they must re­tain the pi­tam — the re­mains of the stigma — then they are kosher. If this breaks, the etrog is use­less, so it must be treated with great care. It is a plant that grows with thorny spines and mod­ern pro­duc­ers phys­i­cally re­move th­ese spines to pre­vent the fruit from dam­ag­ing it­self in growth.

So af­ter Suc­cot, what should we do with this beau­ti­ful fruit? First, I would plant the seeds as this plant will fruit without graft­ing.

Then it’s pos­si­ble to make a glo­ri­ous mar­malade but it will need to be ex­tended with other cit­rus. Or candy it by soak­ing and sim­mer­ing the tough pith un­til soft, then cook­ing in a su­gar so­lu­tion un­til the fruit is sweetly ten­der. But that is hard work.

So why not en­joy the magic of the etrog by mak­ing the most de­li­cious driz­zle cake, adapted from an easy all-in-one recipe. The fra­grant zest is grated and added to the mix­ture while the golden top­ping en­hanced by a glo­ri­ous su­gar crust. Each etrog should yield a ta­ble­spoon or two of juice — make up the rest with lemon juice.

PHOTO: REUTERS

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