October 08, 2007
Before Sukkot began, I was at shul to meet with my rabbi, and happened to see the etrogim he'd purchased, sitting on a table. Our shul ordered three this year. I asked whether anyone had any intention of preserving them when the festival had ended, and sure enough, no one did. So when I was back at shul for Hebrew school on Simchat Torah, I took away the etrogim. In previous years I've only had the one etrog to play with. This year, since I would have four at my disposal, I decided it was time to try making etrog marmalade again.
The inside of an etrog is quite beautiful, but there's a lot of pith. (This one actually has more fruit and less pith than some of the others I sliced into; some of them seem to be mostly pith, with just a little starburst of fruit in the center.) Before the marmalade-making began, I read every citrus marmalade recipe I could get my hands on. Several suggested using fruit and rind but eschewing the pith, since pith may impart a bitter flavor to the jam. Of course, pith -- and seeds -- also contain natural pectins, and the first time I tried making this stuff my marmalade didn't set, so I wasn't sure I wanted to leave out anything that might help with that process. Besides, if I cut away all of the pith I would hardly have had any fruit left.
In the end, I just quartered the fruits and sliced them into wedges, pith and all. I soaked the slices of etrog (and one bonus lemon, which seemed dazzlingly soft and fruity in contrast) overnight in a bowl of water, which would then become the basis for the marmalade. I did the same with the seeds. Many, many seeds. Etrogim have an absurd quantity of seeds.
I decided to adapt the first recipe I tried three years ago -- the one that yielded fruit sauce, rather than marmalade. The mistake was mostly mine. I'd never made jam before, so I didn't know how to interpret the instructions. The recipe said "boil one minute or until set," and I assumed that meant the stuff would set after being boiled for a minute or so. (Wrong.) This time I hoped the natural pectins yielded by the seeds -- which produced a clear, viscous gel in their bowl overnight -- would help, and the copious quantities of pith likewise, but I resolved to simmer the marmalade until it passed my set test. (I test the set of jam by dipping out a spoonful on a cold spoon and seeing how it looks when I tilt the spoon. If it still pours like syrup, it hasn't set. If it wrinkles on the spoon as I tilt it, then we're golden.)
The marmalade took 35 minutes of simmering and stirring, but eventually it got there. The four etrogim and one lemon (actually three and a half etrogim -- I got nervous about using so much more fruit than the original recipe had called for) yielded five jelly jars of marmalade. I'm giving one to the friend who helped with the jam-making, and one to my rabbi who donated the etrogim. The other three will stay on our shelf, to be eaten during the wintertime. I'll save at least one for our Tu BiShvat seder, linking the fruits of this fall harvest with our celebration of the first sap starting to rise. The end of one season, stitched to the beginning of the next. One measure of the song of our lives leading to another measure, turning the perpetual-motion flywheel that moves us through the passage of holy time.
(Final photo: L to R, etrog-ginger fruit sauce from 2005; blueberry-etrog jam, 2006; and this year's etrog-ginger marmalade. This year's recipe follows.)
3 or 4 etrogim
1 4-inch piece of fresh ginger root
4.5 cups sugar
1 package of pectin
Cut etrogim and lemon into quarters and slice thinly. Remove and save the seeds in a bowl with 1/2 cup water. Put etrog/lemon slices in another bowl and cover with 3 cups water. Cover each bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 24 hours at room temperature.
The next day, put the etrog/lemon slices and their water in a saucepan. If necessary, add more water to cover. Tie the seeds in a small piece of cheese cloth, and add them and their water to sauce pan. Bring to a simmer, and simmer, covered, for 45 min.
Peel ginger root; grate with ginger grater, and squeeze the resulting ginger fluff to yield 1/4 cup of ginger juice. Remove seeds from sauce pan and add ginger juice.
Bring marmalade to a boil; add pectin, stirring vigorously. Stir in sugar, and keep cooking over moderate heat, stirring occasionally and skimming off any foam, until mixture visibly gels on a cold spoon. (This year, this step took 35 minutes, so be prepared for it to take a while, and be attentive because it might take no time at all.)
Pack in sterile jelly jars with sterile new lids. Process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes. If any jars fail to seal, refrigerate them. Enjoy!