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Sukkot harvest

Etrog slices.

One of the ways I mark the end of Sukkot is by preserving etrogim. They're such precious and beautiful fruits (especially their fragrance -- the scent is intense and unmistakeable) that throwing them away seems ridiculous. Better to make something of them; better still to make something which will allow me to savor another festival more fully. So the last few years I've preserved our etrogim to eat at Tu BiShvat, the New Year of the Trees which comes on the Gregorian calendar sometime in February.

As always, at this time of year the hills where we live have shifted into their short-lived but spectacular orange and yellow and red clothes. The icy snows of February are almost inconceivable. But I love knowing that on some cold winter day, when the hope for spring is fierce but the days of increasing light still feel far away, we'll open these jars and their contents will remind me of sitting in our sukkah this fall.

One of my favorite food/cooking resources, On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, tells me:

Perhaps the first citrus fruit to reach the Middle East around 700 B.C.E. and the Mediterranean around 300 B.C.E., citrons are native to the Himalayan foothills. They gave their name to the genus, and their name came in turn from their resemblance to the cone of a Mediterranean evergreen cedar (Greek kedros.) The several varieties have little juice, but an intensely aromatic rind that can perfume a room -- citrons are used in both Asian and Jewish religious ceremonies -- and that has long been candied.

McGee says that in China's Sichuan province, the rind is made into a hot pickle. (Anybody have a recipe for that? It sounds amazing.) Experimenting with the genre is tough; last year's attempted spicy etrog pickle wasn't really a success. (Now that I've preserved lemons -- which I did during the month of Elul, wanting to serve a dish which required them on erev Rosh Hashanah -- I understand why etrogim don't work in the same way: they're too much pith, too little fruit, and there just wasn't enough juice to marinate them in.) So I decided to reprise the etrog-ginger marmalade I made in 2007, with a few tweaks.

Resting overnight.

Last time I made this preserve it turned out a bit more bitter than I had intended. This time I added a tangerine to complement the etrogim; I poured off the soaking water after 24 hours and cooked the fruit in fresh water; and (instead of using a preconceived quantity of sugar) I measured out the quantity of cooked fruit and added sugar to equal that amount. The resulting fruit-in-syrup still had a bittersweet quality to it when I tasted it, but to my mind that's one of the hallmarks of marmalade; hopefully the ratio will be more satisfying this time around!

Once again, getting the proto-marmalade to set took a long time, even though the seeds had contributed natural pectin in their muslin bag and I added a full packet of Ball liquid pectin. After adding the commercial pectin, I simmered for half an hour with no visible change in status. Then I started poking around online again, and learned that jams and marmalades set at 220 degrees Fahrenheit, so I pulled out the candy thermometer. Sure enough, the stuff in my pot was nowhere near that temperature, so I turned the heat higher and kept stirring. Breaking the 210-degree barrier took a while, but once the syrup got there, it heated all the way to 220 quite quickly. By this time it was a beautiful dark golden orange color, and when I spooned some onto a plate, it set immediately.

I wound up with five jelly jars of marmalade, all of which sealed as soon as I removed them from the canner. (And the stuff is definitely set; when I tilt a jar, its contents don't budge.) The preserves match the russet of many of the trees outside our windows, the golden-orange of the autumnal Berkshire hills.

As always, preserving some of the available abundance feels both like a practical act and a spiritual one. Practical because this means the fruits aren't going to waste; spiritual because preserving the harvest feels like a way of saying thank-you for the many blessings in my life. And, of course, because this act becomes a way of stitching together two disparate points on the holiday calendar. The applesauce I put up at the start of Sukkot will grace our potato latkes in December; the etrog marmalade will be eaten at Tu BiShvat; and next thing I know, it will be spring again.

The fruits of my labors.

Etrog Marmalade With A Hint of Ginger & Tangerine

3 or 4 etrogim
1 lemon
1 tangerine
1 4-inch piece of fresh ginger root
an equivalent amount of sugar to the quantity of cooked fruit
1 package of pectin

Cut etrogim, tangerine, and lemon into quarters and slice thinly. Remove and save the seeds in a bowl with 1/2 cup water. Put fruit slices in another bowl and cover with water. Cover each bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 24 hours at room temperature.

The next day, pour out the water from the bowl of fruit slices (which will have absorbed some of the bitterness from the pith -- etrogim are very pithy!) and put the fruits in a saucepan with new water to cover. Tie the seeds in a small piece of cheese cloth, and add them and their water (which may be viscous) to saucepan. Bring to a simmer, and simmer, covered, for at least 45 minutes. Remove the cheesecloth bag and squeeze it into the pot to get the last drops of the natural pectin released by the seeds.

Remove the saucepan from heat. Decant its contents and measure the quantity of fruit. Then add the fruit back to the liquid, and add a quantity of sugar to match the quantity of fruit. Once the sugar is well-blended, taste the proto-marmalade and see if it suits you. Add more sugar to taste as needed.

Peel ginger root; grate the peeled root, and squeeze the resulting ginger fluff to yield ginger juice. (This year I had a bit under 1/4 cup.) Add ginger juice to pan and blend well.

Bring the proto-marmalade to a boil, and 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. (If this doesn't happen reasonably quickly, try plan B: turn heat up to high and cook, stirring all the while, until the syrup reaches 220 degrees F, at which point it should set immediately if spooned onto a cold plate.)

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!