Despite this toxic etrog warning at The Jew and the Carrot, I wanted to make something out of my etrogim again this year. They're so beautiful and fragrant that I couldn't bear to just throw them away. So nu, it's possible that our etrogim are pesticide-laden; I still couldn't resist. Besides, whatever I make was likely to be a condiment, something we'll eat in small bites. I decided it was worth the risk.
Last year I made etrog-ginger marmalade, which was tasty although flawed; it's somewhat bitter, and also denser than I really wanted. (I was afraid of winding up with fruit sauce again, so I cooked it for too long. Whoops.) In some ways my most successful etrog preservation to date was the spicy blueberry-etrog jam I made two years ago, which was delicious. But maybe because the blueberries provide the dominant color and flavor notes, it was slightly dissatisfying as a mode of etrog preservation. It felt like I was putting the fruits to good use, but the end result didn't feel like etrog.
Still, the combination of sweet and spicy made me happy, so this year I decided to try something wacky and new: a sweet and spicy etrog pickle.
I've pretty much never met a preserved lemon I didn't like. Hot Indian pickle, Moroccan preserved lemons -- all of the variations I know are pleasing to me. Since the process of preserving the lemons seems to soften their rind somewhat, maybe it wouldn't be a problem that etrogim usually contain more rind than fruit. I adapted a recipe from my pickling and preserving Bible, The Joy of Pickling. The recipe called for lemons, of course, not etrogim, but what else is new?
I took three etrogim and cut them into eighths. I mixed a teaspoon and a half each of fresh-ground cumin, fennel seeds, peppercorns, and pickling salt together. The instructions called for packing the spices into the cavities of the lemon wedges; these etrog wedges didn't have the softness of lemons, but I rubbed them with spice mixture and did my best to stuff them with spices, and packed the etrog slices and spices into a sterile quart jar. After topping them with six tablespoons of lemon juice, I sealed the jar and placed it in a sunny window for a week.
The recipe instructed me, on day eight, to take the etrog wedges and simmer them for ten minutes, or until soft, in the juices they had generated in the jar. They had barely generated enough juice to cover the bottom of my small pot, so I added lemon juice to cover, and in that lemon juice I dissolved a cup and a half of brown sugar. I simmered the etrogim for 20 minutes instead of ten, and then added the two small dried chile peppers the recipe calls for. I chose chipotles.
And then I packed the etrogim into two sterile pint jars, with one hot pepper in the bottom of each jar. The recipe didn't say anything about including the syrup in which they'd been cooking, but everything else I've ever pickled has gone into the jars covered in syrup or brine -- and the recipes I found online for pickled lemons all called for covering them with liquid in the jar. So I poured the hot spicy syrup over the etrog wedges, capped the jars, and put them on our baker's rack alongside the other things we've canned and preserved.
The instructions say to let them sit at room temperature for at least a month, and then to refrigerate them if we don't eat them right away. My hope is to keep them, as is our custom, until Tu BiShvat. I'll open a jar then and see if they're good. If they are, I'll take them to the congregational Tu BiShvat seder, since I used two congregational etrogim in the recipe. Regardless of how they turn out, there's something satisfying about having made the attempt (even if Ethan did note that having a jar full of citron wedges and arcane spices marinating in a sunny window seemed like kitchen witchery...) I like how preserving our etrogim stretches the sweetness of Sukkot.