What's an Etrog to do? Turn your Sukkot Etrog into Citron Cookies and Preserves

When the weather shifts cooler and it’s time to celebrate fall, Jewish people around the world assemble the Four Species: palm, willow, myrtle and etrog. The etrog fruit is held in the left hand, the bundle of branches in the right, and together they are waved in the morning on the first seven days of Sukkot. But at least one of these four holy plants should have a life in your kitchen after the holiday: the etrog is edible.

When the weather shifts cooler and it’s time to celebrate fall, Jewish people around the world assemble the Four Species: palm, willow, myrtle and etrog. The etrog fruit is held in the left hand, the bundle of branches in the right, and together they are waved in the morning on the first seven days of Sukkot. But at least one of these four holy plants should have a life in your kitchen after the holiday: the etrog is edible.

Etrogs are a cultivar of citron, one of the four ancestral citrus from which all other citrus varieties are descended. Citrons have been a part of the human diet for so long that no one is sure where they originated. Citron seeds were discovered at Mesopotamian sites dating back 6000 years, and, according to researchers at Purdue, “A Jewish coin struck in 136 B.C. bore a representation of the citron on one side.”

Citrons are popular throughout Southeast Asia and the Middle East, and the etrog cultivar is most popular in Israel, because of its connection to Sukkot. American etrogs are often imported, but there are a handful of farms that grow them in California. I ordered mine from Pearson Ranch, which specializes in citrus uncommon in America, like kumquats and Makrut limes. Lindcove Ranch is another grower who was profiled by Tablet magazine in 2011. Tablet noted that growing etrogs required rabbinical supervision: “The lineage of each etrog tree must be certified, and the fruit can’t be grown on grafted or budded trees.”

Citron is unique among citrus, in that we don’t consume its fleshy interior, rather its thick and spongy peel and pith. When you slice it open, the smell is a combination of lemon sandwich cookies, citrus floor cleaner, and evergreen. To prepare a citron, cut it in quarters lengthwise. Cut off both stems and the tough center core. Make sure to cut out all the seeds, but it’s ok if some fleshy fruit remains.

So what to do with your etrog? If you also celebrate Christmas, candied citron is a traditional ingredient in fruitcake. But I’d recommend this recipe for Citron Cookies from the 1918 Jewish Cook Book, one of the volumes in the American Jewish Historical Society’s extensive culinary holdings. The recipe is simple to prepare and the resulting cookies are like light, little fruitcakes. They have a cakey texture with a burst of fresh citrus from finely minced citron.

Citron Cookies

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon cloves

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

1 ½ cups sugar

1 egg

¾ cup milk

½ cup citron, minced

Makes about 80 small cookies.

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  • Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, allspice and cloves.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.
  • Add egg; mix.
  • With mixer on low, add half of the milk; mix. Add half of the dry ingredients; mix until batter looks moist. Repeat with remaining milk and dry ingredients.
  • Fold in citron with a spatula.
  • Drop onto cookie sheets by the heaping teaspoon, about three inches apart. Use a 1 teaspoon ice cream scoop for rounder, neat cookies. Bake 12 minutes, turning cookie sheet halfway through, until the edges of the cookies are deep, golden brown. Allow cookies to cool on cookie sheet before removing to a rack.

Another recipe from the same cookbook – whose recipes I am beginning to love and trust – is Citron Preserves. You can use these preserves anywhere you normally would use jam: spread on toast, wrapped in rugelach. But also stir a heaping teaspoon in a cup of hot water in the winter to make a tea popular in Korea. The citron-ginger-sugar mix is a purported preventative and remedy for colds. At the very least, the hot water opens your sinuses and the preserves soothe your throat.

Citron Preserves

1 citron (About one pound. If your citron is larger or smaller, simply scale up or down the recipe proportionately)

2 cups sugar

1 lemon, juiced

2-4 teaspoons fresh grated ginger, depending on your taste.

1 cup water

Will fill two 16-ounce mason jars.

  • Slice the citron in quarters and cut out the core and seeds. Cut into ¼ inch strips, then cut widthwise into 1 inch long chunks. Alternately, “notch the edges; or cut into fancy shapes.”
  • To a medium saucepan, add water, sugar, and lemon juice. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
  • Add citron and ginger. Bring to a boil, uncovered, over high heat, then reduce to low heat and simmer until citron is clear, about 30 minutes.
  • Pour hot into sanitized glass mason jars to make it shelf stable. Otherwise, store in the refrigerator or freeze.

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