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Holiday Feature: You Can Shake Your Lulav – and Cook with Your Etrog, Too

“Every Jewish kid in the area wants to visit our sukkah,” says professional baker and restaurant bakery consultant Marcy Goldman of Montreal. Preparing for young and old arriving in tours, she and her three sons decorate their hut to the hilt. “We’re the most popular stop on the field trip list.”

Besides the outrageous abundance of fruits and vegetables hung on walls, they are not shy about spreading etrogs inside. A variety of the citron, etrogs appear in every sukkah, but usually in ones or twos.

Because Sukkot began as a holiday for gathering fruit, today Jews decorate temporary huts with produce. No celebration would be complete without examples of the Four Species, which once represented all growing things in the world.

Among the Four Species are a lulav — the youngest branch of palm trees — a willow branch, a myrtle bush branch and an etrog.

The willow and myrtle branches are tied around the lulav, while the etrog is kept in a special, well-padded container, which may be a simple wooden box with a straw lining, or an ornate model with intricate filigree and a hinged lid. Holding the Four Species, participants shake the lulav in all directions and say prayers of thanks to God for all the good things they receive from the earth.

Etrogs became part of Sukkot festivals, following the biblical commandment in Leviticus 23: “And ye shall take you on the first day the fruit of a beautiful tree and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.” The Hebrew phrase pri etz hadar, literally “the fruit of a beautiful tree,” has always been identified with the etrog.

A rare commodity in North America, etrogs are mysterious to many people, who don’t know what they look like or that they add surprising snap to recipes.

“Actually a fresh etrog resembles a very fat lemon — as big as a grapefruit,” says Goldman, author of “A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking” (Doubleday, 1998). Aware that etrog juice is scant because the pulp is meager, she culls the tastiest part — its thick skin.

“Scrape away a bit of the zest, and you’ll find a heady citrus bouquet, reminiscent of lemons and limes blended together in a tropical, citrusy perfume,” she says. One whiff conjures up the Garden of Eden.

The etrog, which is the citron’s Hebrew name, has played a part in Jewish history since ancient times. Originating in India, by 600 B.C. the citron had traveled to Persia. Eventually it reached Babylonia, where it was adopted by exiled Jews, who later carried it back to Palestine.

Because Jews were the only people in the Middle East to use etrogs in harvest festivals, the fruit evolved into a symbol of national identity, stamped on coins, monuments and gravestones. After the fall of the second Temple in 66 C.E., when Jews were scattered throughout the Roman Empire, they planted etrogs wherever they took root.

Although today production is small, etrog citrons are in heavy demand in Jewish communities at Sukkot. The main producers are Italy, Greece, Corsica, Morocco – – and Israel.

While local synagogues may arrange for members to obtain imported etrogs, they can sometimes be found at gourmet food stores, often labeled citrons.

Passionate about baking with etrogs, Goldman believes in “eating a food of memory,” one intertwined with Judaism for centuries. By doing so, she is teaching her sons to revere their history.

Should etrogs prove difficult to find, lemons yield excellent results in her recipes. The Etrog or Lemon Lime Sukkot Cake is a moist confection with fabulous fragrance. For a festive look, Goldman suggests garnishing the cake plate with citrus or myrtle leaves, as well as palm branches.

The Lemon Dairy Cheesecake is a smooth and creamy, yet zesty ending to dairy meals during Sukkot.

Friday Night Banana Cake Aka

Gotta-Do-Something-with-those-Bananas-on-the-Counter Bundt Cake is really what Goldman calls this recipe in her cookbook. “This is one of those split-second- to-make cakes,” she says, realizing it’s in harmony with Sukkot this year, which starts on a Shabbat. A fine-grained, pareve cake, it derives its flavor from a tart lemon glaze.

If you always designate etrogs for centerpieces, Goldman offers two ways to preserve them after Sukkot: Make marmalade by substituting a couple etrogs for the Seville oranges usually called for in recipes. Shave etrog skin into tiny curlicues with a zester, freezing them for later baking projects.

“Whatever you do, don’t waste them,” says Goldman, who has a Web site (www.betterbaking.com) in which she answers recipe-related questions.

Meanwhile, she and her boys are building and filling another dynamite Sukkah – – with etrogs and the biblical fragrance of baked goods galore.

ETROG OR LEMON LIME SUKKOT CAKE

Yield: 8-10 servings

Cake Batter

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

2 Tbsp. finely minced etrog zest, or lime zest, or a lemon/lime combination

2 eggs

1/4 cup milk

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

1/2 tsp. lime oil or extract

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease an 8-by-4-inch loaf pan.

2. In a mixing bowl cream the butter, sugar and zest together until well blended. Stir in eggs.

3. Add the milk, vanilla, lemon and lime juices, and lime oil to combine well. Fold in the remaining dry ingredients to make a smooth batter.

4. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is evenly browned and slightly cracked on top (30 to 35 minutes). Cool well before removing from pan.

Lemon Lime Glaze

2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

1/4 cup sugar

In a small saucepan, heat the juices. Stir in the sugar until dissolved. Cool well. Using a cake tester, poke holes all over the cake and drizzle the glaze on top.

LEMON DAIRY CHEESECAKE

Yield: 10 servings

Bottom Crust

1 1/4 cups vanilla wafer or graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

1 Tbsp. brown sugar

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

In a medium sized bowl, mix ingredients together with a fork until evenly moistened. Press them into the bottom of a greased 9-inch spring-form pan.

Cheesecake Filling

1 pound pot cheese

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup plain yogurt or sour cream

4 eggs, plus 1 yolk

2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 Tbsp. finely minced etrog or lemon zest

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. In a large mixing bowl, cream the cheeses until smooth. Then add sugar and flour. Blend in the yogurt.

3. Add the eggs, yolk, lemon juice and zest, combining until smooth and thoroughly incorporated.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 225 degrees and bake for another 40 minutes. The cake will be set in the middle and slightly golden in color.

5. Cool well. Cover the top of the cake with plastic wrap and chill it overnight.

FRIDAY NIGHT BANANA CAKE

aka

GOTTA-DO-SOMETHING-WITH-THOSE-BANANAS-ON-THE-COUNTER BUNDT CAKE

Yield: 12-14 servings

Cake Batter

2 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 cups mashed bananas

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease and flour a 10-inch bundt pan.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, eggs, vanilla and lemon juice until smooth. Stir in the mashed bananas.

3. In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients. Fold these dry ingredients into the batter and blend well. Scrape the bottom of the bowl to ensure there are no unincorporated ingredients.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 55 to 70 minutes, or until the cake springs back when gently pressed. Cool for 10 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate and cool to room temperature.

Lemon Glaze

3/4 confectioners’ sugar

2-4 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a bowl, stir the sugar together with the other ingredients, adding water as required to achieve a thick, but pourable glaze. Spoon or drizzle the glaze onto the cooled cake.

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