This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V26", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
In looking over the last number of the Gardeners' Monthly, and from among the many interesting subjects my attention was called to the remarks on the "Jewish Citron," in which I could not fail to recognize an old acquaintance of my younger days. In the South-western portion of my native home, Russia, where the Semitic race is well represented, and where to this day they strictly adhere to all the old acquired customs and fashions, more particularly to a full observance of all traditional rites of Talmud-there it fell to my good luck to notice a peculiar egg or pear-shaped warty orange used as an ornament at each harvest feast or feast of the tabernacle (Laubhuttenfest)*, and this fruit is undoubtedly the "Esrog" mentioned in the Monthly. I think I am correct in the statement of its only use as an ornament, as I recollect, and only too well, on one occasion, where inquisitiveness had the better of me, what forcible impression the sour acrid taste of the fruit must have produced on my mind, judging by the hearty laugh that followed the well defined expression on my face at that time.
In order to excite and aggravate our Jewish friends, we used to title this fruit "Adam's apple," taking the ground, that this was the sort of " sour apple" Adam was tempted to eat in the " Garden of Eden," upholding that the teeth-like impressions on the rind were a sufficient proof thereof. But, be this as it may, my impression is, that "Esrog" is also identical with the fruit "Hadar," so mentioned in the third book of Moses. There is but little doubt left, that the "Esrog" is a peculiar variety of "Citrus Med-ica (Riso), which has preserved its identity to this day; as I know of every case of fruit that is shipped to have a certificate as to their correctness from the head Rabbi of the locality where they were grown and gathered. The citrus comes historically from Media, wherefrom it was taken to Persia, and later to Greece - and about the same time there is a record of its cultivation in Palestine. To-day the "Esrog" tree claims its home in Montenegro, Calabria, Sicily and Riviera de Genova; the common name of it in Italy is, I believe, "Cedro all Ebreo".
U. S. Botanical Garden, Washington, D. C [It still remains a matter of interest why this particular variety of Citrus Medica should be set apart for this purpose, and be regarded as so essential a part in the ceremony as to follow the Jews over the earth wherever it is at all practicable to reach them. - Ed. G. M].
W. R. Gerard, New York, writes: "Referring to a note in the Monthly, asking for information regarding the "Esrog," and where it is stated that the fruit is also called "Apple of Paradise," I would say that Citrus decumana, L., is known in Germany as "Paradys-apfel" (Paradise apple) and its thick rind is there made into " citron".
[All the forms of citrus decumana we are acquainted with, have smooth rinds. Could the rough one referred to belong to this species? - Ed. G. M].
"A. Z.," Montgomery, Ala., says: "The Jews, during their harvest feast, which ended yesterday (Oct. 23d), use a fruit which they call Esrog. It is imported from Corfu, and has the appearance and smell of a citron, but is all covered with warts. I should very much like to know the botanical and the common name of the tree which yields the fruit and ii the tree can be had in America".
[We handed this note to a very intelligent gentleman of New York, of Jewish descent, but the following note is all we can learn of it. Mr. Bay-ersdorffer, to whom we subsequently referred the matter, knows nothing more than that it is a species of the citron family: " It is undoubtedly a species of lemon or citron. I have seen it used often enough, but don't know any other name than that of the Bible - Esrog. Have not seen it grow in Italy. If none of the readers of the Gardeners' Monthly can solve the conundrum I will try in Europe. It is imported in Philadelphia, perhaps by Bayersdorffer. The feast has just occurred. It is also called 'Apple of Paradise.' " - Ed. G. M].
Mr. C. L. Allen writes: " By referring to Lindley you will find the botanical name of 'a Jewish citron,' that 'A. Z.' wishes to know, to be Citrus medica, a fruit the Jews always use in the feast of the Tabernacles. It is also figured in ' Loudon's Encyclopaedia of Plants".
You have very kindly called my attention to an interesting article on "The Jewish Citron," contributed to the February number of the Gardeners' Monthly and Horticulturist, by Dr. Vladimir de Niedman, of the U. S. Botanical Garden, Washington, D. C. I regret exceedingly not having read another article on the subject in a former number of the same magazine, to which Dr. Neidman refers.
Ethrog (not "esrog") is identical not with the fruit Hadar,* but with the fruit of the tree Hadar, this word signifying in the Hebrew, "beautiful," " magnificent." The word "ethrog,"according to a modern Hebrew scholar, reminds of the "ath-rogna,"in Syriac, which means "orange," (notice the similarity in the two words," athrogna " and "orange") or "tharog" in the Persian and Arabic. Dr. Neidman in his article says:
'* In order to excite and aggravate our friends, we (children) used to title this fruit 'Adam's apple,' taking the ground that this was the sort of 'sour apple' Adam was tempted to eat in the 'Garden of Eden,' upholding that the teeth-like impressions on the rind were a sufficient proof thereof".
* The English translation of III B. M., 23, 40, as rendered in King James' version, is wanting in the spirit of the Hebrew tongue.
The fact is, that they - the children - could not have excited nor aggravated the Jews, for the simple reason that, if they did say that, they only voiced an old tradition, + as recorded in a book well-known to almost every Israelite in Russia, from where the doctor hails.
The "ethrog" is one of the four kinds used in the synagogue ++ as a sort of festive nosegay in the hand of the worshiper, the other three being a branch of the palm tree, some boughs of the myrtle, and common willows of the brook; with these four in hand, the Israelite appears before his God on the feast of Tabernacles, "when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land," (Leviticus 23, 40) expressing his heartfelt gratitude for the manifold gifts of nature. The "ethrog," besides reminding the followers of Moses of their wonderful past history, represents the highest form of development in the botanical world, as does the "willow of the brook " that of the lowest, thus symbolizing the thankfulness of the servants of God for the least as well as for the greatest blessings that earth can produce. Even the most casual observer must at once recognize the beauty of this custom. The Talmud furnishes the following description of the tree Hadar, and of its fruit, which may serve as an explanation "why," as the editor of the Gardeners' Monthly asks, "this particular variety of Citrus medica should be set apart for this purpose, and be regarded as so essential a part in the ceremony." Its fruit, meaning that of the Hadar tree, grows often before the leaves; the taste of the wood is exactly the same as that of the fruit; the tree bears fruit all the year round; both the wood and the fruit are eaten by men; when the young growth appears on the tree, the older and ripe one is still there, and you can behold sometimes a mixed crowd of ripe and unripe, of small and large ethrogs, upon the branches of the Hadar tree.
It grows near any water, and can easily be cultivated, either by natural or artificial irrigation; both the tree and the fruit are truly "Hadar," that is, magnificent.
+ Midrash Rabhoth to Genesis.
++ In America, in some of the Reformed Temples, its use has been abolished.
The same Hebrew scholar to whom I have referred above, quotes from Reichenbach's Flora Germanica, who says, on page 840, speaking on the citron and orange species: "These trees seem to me the real end and the highest key-stone in the whole domain of vegetabilia," etc., etc. No wonder that, for sacred purposes, such as Thanksgiving, the ethrog, certainly the most beautiful of its kind, should be selected.
I have written these lines hastily, for your information, and you have my permission to publish them if you deem fit. St Louis, April 2, 1884.