Leaf of the Day: A Less Than Beautiful Etrog

By the time my day was through, waiting for plumbers, waiting for delivery men, I had lost the will to live, never mind the will to draw.
Washing machines are not normally on my mind and are not usually a topic of conversation but when I arrived here, just a year ago now, I was stunned by the size of these USA washers and dryers. In Spain they are both tiny and irritatingly inefficient.
Today however I am sad because the two ancient Maytag monsters, that needed a room all to themselves in this tiny flat (maybe 20% of the floor area) have gone, to be replaced by two equally huge blue things that are all computer controlled and won’t allow you to do anything but obey the instructions. I loved the old ugly ones with their simple dials and lift up lids so that if you forgot the odd sock or tea towel you just lifted up the lid and popped it in. They have gone because our landlady decided we needed prettier ones which was fine I guess and I am not ungrateful, but the old ones worked beautifully. These need special washing powder and have blue lights and beep.
I am now surrounded by appliances that beep. It drives me to the very, very end of my not particularly long tether. The pitch of the beeping is more piercing than the dentist’s drill, the fridge does it, the cooker does it, the grill does it, the microwave does it. Incessant and repeated beeping, to remind me that the right or wrong temperature has been achieved, that something is done or not done or that I have failed, yet again, to turn off, turn on or turn over. Every damn thing has to be programmed, has so many options I don’t understand and never use, and I still have not worked out how to use the oven properly. What exactly does “broil” mean?

So here I am at 4.30 with these two gigantic blue things that are glowing, beeping, purring and clicking, going through their cycles which will now take a full hour I guess, as opposed to 15 minutes, and what will I have at the end of it ? Clean clothes, just like before.
I have not one line drawn, and my tether has definitely ended.

However a quick Etrog! In the gardens the Etrog tree, Citrus medica has large, lumpy and blemished fruit. I had never heard of the Etrog before I started looking into the history of citrus. It’s origins are unknown, but it was one of the earliest cultivated citrus fruit, with records dating back to 4000 BC. It has very little juice and a very thick rind which was used more in medicinal preparations then in culinary ones.

Possibly without the Jewish festival of Sukkot the Etrog might just have become a curiosity but it plays a central role in the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, at the feast of Tabernacles.
“On the first day, you will take for yourselves a fruit of a beautiful tree, palm branches, twigs of a braided tree and brook willows, and you will rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. -Leviticus 23:40
Sukkot is a joyful festival which is celebrated in the autumn in a similar way, it seems, to Harvest Festival in the UK, and Thanksgiving here. The Etrog is part of a waving ritual in which the “4 species” are waved. The Etrog is the “fruit of the beautiful tree”, others are a Date Palm frond, a Myrtle bough and a Willow branch.
They signify the heart,(etrog),the spine,(the palm),the eye(myrtle)and the lips(willow). Holding these four species, a blessing is recited and they are waved in all six directions, east, south, west, north, up and down symbolizing the omnipresence of God.

Mosaic floor from Tiberias synagogue featuring the lulav (palm frond etc bundle) and etrog. Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv. Image from Bibleplaces. com here

An Etrog for the festival has to be very carefully chosen and scrutinised for defects. Sadly, none of the Etrogs at Leu would pass this rigorous beauty parade of Etrogs. They are all, without exception, shapeless, spotted, lumpen, but quite adorable. Is there no end to the tyranny of perfection when even a lemon can be discarded for its physical imperfections. What hope is there for us less than perfect human specimens?
In Etrog world though, the ugly and even the beautiful Etrogs can be useful for marmalades, flavourings or even wine.


Etrogs ..less than perfect.