By Chedva Silver
Definition of Esrog: Yellow citron or citrus medica; one of four species of plants used during the Jewish celebration of Sukkos.
Every year, we use an esrog on Sukkos. We hold it together with the lulav that we shake every day for 7 days. But have you ever wondered where it comes from? Or how it’s grown?
Esrogim can only be grown in climates that are warm enough all year round. They’re often grown in the Middle East, specifically Israel and Morocco, Italy, and sometimes California or Texas.
Esrogim can be grown and cultivated in other areas, although it is definitely more difficult because of the climate changes. Surprisingly, though, there is a school in Rochester, New York that cultivated an esrog tree which actually grew fruit! It started about 11 years ago, when the principal of the school in Rochester got a beautiful esrog for Sukkos. The principal brought it into school, where they planted it to see what would happen. It sprouted and grew. For the summer, it was kept outside, and for the winter, it stayed inside. Incredibly, after about ten years, it actually grew fruit! Beautiful, kosher esrogim! Although unusual, it can be done.
Esrogim are some pretty difficult plants to grow as they are extremely delicate. Too much sun will burn them up, but obviously, too little will stunt them. If temperatures go below 40 degrees, be careful! You will have to protect the fruit from the cold. Young plants must also be protected from storms. In addition, esrogim must be well protected from anything that can give them a blemish, as it would render them unfit for use on Sukkos. This is particularly difficult because esrog trees have sharp thorns on them.
Esrog trees are self-fruitful, meaning there’s no need for another tree to be nearby for it to grow and bear fruit. Unexpectedly, esrog trees actually need a cold period in order to get them to begin to flower. Note that this does not mean freezing weather!
People say that the first esrog was planted in Italy. Italy has the perfect climate for esrogim and many esrogim are still grown there today. Many people prefer Italian esrogim. They are especially beautiful. Fun fact: Italian esrogim have no pitom!
Would you believe that the owner of the only large-scale esrog farm in the United States is not even Jewish? His name is John Kirkpatrick and he lives with his wife Shirley in California where they grow citruses. In 1980, he got a call from a man in New York, wondering if he knew anyone who could grow esrogim in the United States. As John Kirkpatrick heard more, he realized that he himself wanted to do it! It took a while, but after much perseverance, he succeeded in becoming the biggest producer of esrogim in the U.S.! Pretty crazy, huh?
Zaide Reuven, based in Dallas, Texas, is a large esrog seller in the United States. Even he buys his esrogim from John Kirkpatrick! Zaide Reuven’s Esrog Farm is owned by David Wiseman. He also wrote a book called The Esrog.
There are a few different varieties of esrogim. There’s the Yemenite variety which is often larger than usual. There’s also the Chazon-Ish variety which is particularly bumpy. Then there is the Yanover/Diamente variety, usually greener and smoother. In addition to these, there are the Moroccan esrogim which generally have an hourglass type strip in the middle.
Different people hold by different minhagim, or practices and therefore use different varieties of esrogim.
Did you know that esrogim need to be checked for two different things by two different groups of people? One is by the Ministry of Agriculture, to make sure the esrogim aren’t carrying any diseases.
The other is by people who know the Halachos of esrogim and what makes them fit or unfit for use. Only then can they be shipped to people who want to buy them.
After Succos, what do you do with your esrog? Some people make jam or candy, others make besamim and still others make Esrog liqueur.
Recipe For Esrog Candy: (A fun idea for after Yom Tov, when you don’t know what to do with your esrogim).
- 2 esrogs
- 3 cups of sugar
- 2 cups of water
- As much water as needed to keep the saucepan filled
- Wash and dry the esrogs thoroughly, then cut into small cubes.
- Cook in a large saucepan filled with water (so it covers the cubes), for about 30-40 minutes or until the pieces become clear.
- Drain all that water, and put the 3 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water in the pan.
- Cook until the pieces reach 110ºC (230ºF)… if you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can cook until the mixture is thick or almost gone, just short of burning the esrog cubes. Note that if the pieces start to stick to the pan, you should move them around a little.
- Once done, turn off the heat and let the pieces sit in the pan for an hour.
- Toss the cubes in sugar (optional) and let sit on a wire rack overnight.