Wondering what to do with your etrog after Succot? Make a clove etrog and enjoy its sweet fragrance all year! Perfect besamim for havdalah and a great homemade gift.
What is an etrog?
The etrog, also called citron or cedrat, is the fruit of the Citrus medica tree. It is an ancient species, thought to be one of the original four citrus fruits from which all modern citrus – including oranges, lemons, grapefruits etc – have developed through hybridisation. The fruit is highly perfumed, oval in shape, and with bumpy yellowish-green skin. It has very little flesh inside but consists mostly of fragrant white pith. The pith, also called albedo, can be cooked in sugar syrup to make candied citron peel and other sweets.
The four species
Together with palm, willow and myrtle branches, the etrog makes up the arba minim or ‘four species’ associated with the festival of Succot. The bundle of plants is said to represent different human attributes that come together to properly worship G-d.
During the festival special blessings are said over the four species, and they are shaken in all directions to indicate divine omnipresence.
A high price
Most of the etrogim that are used for Succot are grown specifically for ritual use. Buyers place great emphasis on the appearance of the fruit, and beautiful, symmetrical and blemish-free specimens can fetch hundreds of pounds!
However, because these fruits are classed as decorative botanicals rather than as food, they are often heavily treated with pesticides. One etrog farmer reported that they are sprayed with chemicals twice daily to preserve their appearance and prevent damage from pests or fungi. As a result, they contain high levels of pesticide residue.
Can you eat them?
Traditionally, after the festival many people would make their etrog into sweets or desserts, rather than simply dispose of it. Etrog marmalade and etrog infused vodka are the most common recipes, but there are more elaborate dishes including etrog meringue pie or etrog risotto.
However, unless you’re certain that your etrog isn’t chock-full of pesticides, I would certainly avoid consuming it. The practice of making etrog vodka is particularly dangerous as the alcohol acts as a solvent for all the agricultural chemicals that may be lurking in the fruit. Etrog jam, another favourite, uses the fragrant peel, which is where many oil-soluble pesticides will be concentrated.
Personally, I don’t intend to eat my etrog. But it does seem a shame to simply throw it away after Succot.
For the last several years we have used our etrog to create a gorgeous fragrant pomander to use as besamim at havdalah. It is very simple to do and smells absolutely wonderful! All you need is a skewer, toothpick, or darning needle, an etrog, and some cloves.
How to make a Clove Etrog
Use the skewer to make holes in the rind of the etrog. I usually do a row of 5 or 6 holes at a time. Once you have made the holes, simply insert a clove into each one. Then, make another row of holes, and add more cloves. Keep going until the whole fruit is covered in cloves. You can see just how it’s done in the video below. Be sure to turn the sound on to hear my commentary and instructions!Once you’ve added all your cloves, leave the fruit in a warm well-ventilated place for a few days to dry out. I usually balance mine on top of a warm radiator. This photo shows how much it will shrink as it dries!
Although you don’t have to finish making the clove etrog in one sitting, you can’t leave it for too long once you’ve started. A few years ago I got halfway and then put the semi-clove etrog aside. When I came back to it a few days later, the un-cloved end had started to go mushy and rotten, and the whole fruit had to be thrown away.
Cloves contain a fragrant oil which penetrates into the etrog and preserves it. Clove oil has natural antibiotic and anti-fungal properties. It will therefore prevent your etrog from spoiling, in addition to smelling great! You can use the clove etrog at havdalah, or alternatively you can hang it in your wardrobe to keep pests away and your clothes smelling delicious. I’ve also heard that citrus + cloves = natural mosquito repellent.
If you’re particularly creative you can arrange the cloves in a pattern over the etrog’s surface. You could also add a loop of ribbon to hang it up. And while you’ve got the cloves and skewer out, you could make clove oranges and lemons. These look beautiful, especially when they are arranged together. A bowlful of clove citrus fruits will give your home a wonderful autumnal aroma, as well as looking gorgeous.
(If your friends don’t plan to do anything with their etrogs after Succot, you might be able to score a whole bowlful!)
Still want to eat an etrog?
If you’d like to have a go at cooking with etrog, it is possible to buy some that have been grown for culinary use. These may not be varieties that are halachically OK to use for the Succot ritual, but they are fit for human consumption! In the UK, you can buy fresh and frozen etrogs from myexoticfruit.com
Did you know that it’s traditional to eat stuffed foods on Succot? You might like to try some vegan stuffed courgettes (zucchini) with pine nuts, cheesy butternut squash stuffed pasta shells, or a swirly babka, stuffed with rich cinnamon filling.
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