Recycling Sukkot: Don’t wave goodbye to your lulav!

(Chabad photo)

Your lulav is starting to look a bit brittle. Your etrog has seen better days. And there’s a cold wind blowing through the cracks in your Sukkah. Alas, the festival of Sukkot is drawing to a close and you find yourself the owner of a lulav, etrog and schach whose best days are behind them.

Just toss them out? No way! Here are some ideas.

The most crucial part of a sukkah is its schach, the natural covering made from evergreen boughs to bullrushes to certain types of bamboo and wooden slats. While bamboo and wood are reusable, the other coverings are not and can often find their way into landfill. Two years ago, 12 congregations on New York’s Upper West Side found a better way. Working with the New York City Department of Sanitation and Hazon, the Jewish Lab for Sustainability, they composted their schach, lulavs, and etrogs thereby diverting tons of organic material from the landfill.

Rabbi Joel Padowitz says don’t throw away your lulav. Recycle it with a Jewish twist. Although a used lulav no longer retains any intrinsic holiness, it should be treated with respect and not be discarded in a filthy place like a garbage bin. Better to consider what he calls “Mitzvah recycling”, a kabbalistic idea where an item used for one mitzvah is then used for another. “For example, many save their lulav sets and extra willows until the eve of Passover, to use them for kindling a fire for the mitzvah of burning chametz.”

As for your fragrant etrog, you can transform it into a besamim (spice) pomander for havdalah. Right after the holiday (and before your etrog begins to shrink) poke dozens of holes into it using an upholstery needle, sharpened pencil or similar tool of puncture. Plug the holes with cloves. As the etrog dries, it will lock in those cloves making for an aromatic creation you can enjoy to mark the departure of Shabbat year round.

Montreal baker Marcy Goldman believes in “eating a food of memory.” By eating foods that have been connected to the Jewish people for centuries, we gain an important appreciation for our history. Goldman supplies recipes and tips shaving the etrog skin and freezing the zest for later baking projects. “Whatever you do,” she adds, “don’t waste them.”


Etrog Apply Jelly

Although etrogs have much pulp and little juice, you can still transform them into several goodies:

  • Etrog Cake – Or as the recipe says, “When life hands you an etrog … make etrog cake. Shake it then bake it.”
  • Etrog Marmalade – With a hint of tangerine to cut the bitterness. It takes time but it’s worth it.
  • Scented Oil – You can make etrog-scented oil simply by infusing oil with the zest. Grate the peel of a cleaned etrog and put it in a small glass bottle so it fills half the bottle, then add almond oil, light olive oil, or another oil to the top.
  • Candied Citron – Cut etrogs into 2 cm. cubes. Blanch in barely simmering water for 30 to 40 minutes. Add (plenty of) sugar and cook until the etrog reaches 230ºF. Cool. Enjoy.

According to Toby Sonneman, an etrog may do more than just satisfy your sweet tooth. Writing at she notes the following from Michael Strassfeld’s The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary. “The fruit, with its breastlike shape, was considered to have a special relationship to women, and a variety of Old World practices connected it to pregnancy and birth. A childless woman who wanted to bear a son was advised to bite the pitom (tip) of an etrog. A pregnant woman who ate the etrog after Sukkot, according to the Talmud, would give birth to a ‘fragrant’ child—the equivalent of a ‘good’ child.”


Rafi Eats An Etrog

For anyone who has ever been tempted to just bite into an etrog, you might want to hold off a moment. Watch a YouTube video with a colourful character called Rafi try it first. How does it go for him? Well, without revealing too much, let’s just say that after five gruelling, lip puckering, mouth burning minutes, Rafi finally reaches the tart centre of the etrog and then has to make a hasty exit to rinse the acid from his mouth.

Poor Rafi. Wouldn’t it have been more pleasant to whip up a batch of Etrog Liqueur instead?