Don’t Throw Out That Etrog

(Provided by Jessy Gross)

Those who scoured the streets of Baltimore for the perfect etrog — one void of blemishes and discoloration — no longer have use for the exotic fruit once they disassemble their outdoor huts. Or do they?

Ranging from tangy marmalade to smooth liqueur, some don’t miss a beat when it comes to putting their etrog to use after the weeklong celebration of Sukkot. Discarding it comes at a price: missing out on some post-holiday treats.

Karen Yosafat Beleck, 59, of Pikesville has designated the top shelf of her pantry to bottles of etrog liqueur ever since she began making it for family and friends in 2011. The Ohio-born herbalist started off with a recipe and gradually made it her own over the years.

Although no bottles remain from 2011 — her favorite year — one small decanter containing liqueur from 2012 peeked out from behind an array of bottles as she rummaged through the shelf on Monday. The liqueur was marked with an etrog-themed custom label: “Karen Beleck’s Etrog Liqueur 11/15/12.”

Karen Yosafat Beleck’s shelf of etrog liqueur. (By Shana Medel)

“I was very into trying different recipes when I first got started,” Beleck said. “Each year I do things a little bit differently.”

Depending on the year, some of her liqueur has a stronger and sharper flavor while other bottles contain more supple and smooth liqueur.

The Monday after Sukkot is typically dedicated to schlepping around Baltimore, collecting roughly 30 etrogim from friends and buying the necessary ingredients, including vanilla beans, sugar and vodka.

And this year she won’t be doing it alone. Her 33-year-old son Yosef, who resides in Virginia, will be peeling etrogim alongside his mother this fall.

“We’re not making alcohol, we’re flavoring it,” Beleck said. “It’s a tedious process, but once it’s done, we let it sit for a year.”

Other Maryland residents, including Peter Merles of Baltimore, have enjoyed the longtime tradition of etrog jam.

“I’ve always done a lot of preserving and pickling because I have a big garden out back,” Merles said. “The first year I did it was more of the trial and error year, but I soon found a recipe that worked for me.”

The New York native thought he’d try his hand at making etrog jam about four years ago. Although the jam tasted a bit rubbery the first year he made it, he figured out that the key to improving his jam lied in cutting the etrog into thinner slices.

One etrog will produce about half a pint of jam, he said. And whenever he’s in the kitchen, he has some little helpers who are more than willing to lend a hand.

“My grandchildren are there helping me,” Merles said. “We usually try to make it after Simchat Torah, when the etrog is still fairly fresh.”

(Provided by Jessy Gross)

Rabbi Jessy Gross, who serves as the senior director of Jewish Learning and Life at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore, said for the fifth consecutive year Charm City Tribe’s mobile sukkah will be making its way around Baltimore, offering etrog flavored beer from Union Craft Brewing and etrog flavored ice cream from The Charmery.

“I facilitate the etrog drop off,” Gross said. “Sometimes we freeze our etrogim from the previous year.”

Rather than create an edible treat from her etrog, Pittsburgh resident Simone Shapiro plants the seeds.

The 72-year-old took up the practice when she was living in Northern California, but stopped once she moved. Shapiro was inspired to pick it back up again last year, sprouting 18 plants that she recently moved inside to protect them from the cold.

“You cut the etrog in half, take out the seeds and clean them,” Shapiro said. “You have to carefully peel off the outer shell of the seed. You put them on a wet paper towel. It’s a rather time consuming process, but it’s worth it.”


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