When my wife came home with an etrog, I was delighted and dismayed. It was before our wedding, when we were just beginning to celebrate the cycle of Jewish holidays together. I knew that to observe the Sukkot feast, Jews traditionally built makeshift huts and performed a ritual of waving tree leaves while holding a citron, the gnarled cousin of lemons which in Hebrew is called etrog.
Our first etrog was a beauty: a large, bright yellow fruit, exactly like an oversized Eureka lemon, except for the irregular bumps. I scratched the bark and inhaled, and there were only citrus blossoms, tangerines, and limes.
Then Naomi told me how much she paid him, and I said, “Seriously? “
“That’s what they cost,” she said.
Forty dollars. Forty dollars for a lemon.
What I learned is that in order to be kosher, an etrog must meet certain requirements. The fruit cannot be the result of a grafted tree, and its stem end, called pitoma, must remain intact. Because of this, each lemon is carefully watched and handled, and the more expensive ones are individually swaddled in fabric, like a Tiffany bracelet, in a fitted cardboard box.
And then they are thrown away.
That is, after the holidays, the vast majority of etrog users throw away the fruit, as there is no obvious use for a lemon-like thing that is 90 percent rind, with little juice or real fruit.
The first few years I refused to just throw away our expensive etrogs, so I left them to dry, thinking they might be a very Jewish air freshener. By drying in hard brown oblongs, they retained a pleasant scent. But after a year, they smelled of dust and looked like petrified droppings.
I read etrog marmalade recipes, but I am not a fan of marmalade, jelly, or jam.
But then I came across an etrog liqueur recipe. I like liqueurs.
Etrog liqueur is essentially limoncello. It also turns out that it is not original. The citron is an ancient fruit, and in areas where it is cultivated, notably Greece, it has long been used to make or flavor alcohol. On the Greek islands of Crete and Corfu it is called kitro. When we were in Chania, Crete one summer, the owner of our AirBnB left us a bottle of yellow liquor as a welcome gift. It was kitro.
DIY liquor is simple. You soak the rinds in a decent quality vodka, strain, add sugar and more vodka, then let it mature for a few months. The result is smooth, tangy, fresh and sweet. You can pour some over ice and add seltzer for a Sukkot Spritzer. Or you can drink it neat and chilled after dinner.
There is something right about drinking last year’s etrog in this year’s sukkah. I think the word is enchanting.
Makes 1 pint
3 cups of vodka
1 1/2 cups superfine sugar
Peel 3 citron – avoid the bitter white pith.
Put the zest in a 1 liter bottle with 2 cups of vodka and close for a week or more.
Drain and discard the zest.
Add 1 1/2 cups extra fine (baked goods) sugar and shake or stir vigorously until dissolved.
Add 1 more cup of vodka. Shake until clear.
Close the jar and store in a cool, dark place for at least 6 weeks.
A version of this originally appeared on the foodaism.com blog. For more recipes from Rob Eshman, follow @ foodaism