The Citron

is considered one of the three true species of the genus Citrus but as with most other varieties of citrus it is not grown to be peeled and eaten or squeezed into juice. It is these other characteristics that given the Citron fame and provoked fable.

 

The exact origin of the Citron (Citrus medica L) is not certain but evidence of seeds thought to be those of the Citron were found in archeological excavations at the ruins of Nippur in Mesopotamia, an ancient region in the eastern Mediterranean, and date back to 4,OO O B.C. Citrus fruits are believed to have been wild to and domesticated earlier in China and then fairly slowly reached the West in waves, starting with the Citron in the Middle East. The Citron is also known to grow wild in the hills of India and therefore has been conjectured by some as an origin of the fruit.

 

Mesopotamia (Greek for ‘between two rivers’) was bordered by the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers and considered part of the ‘Fertile Crescent’ region in the Middle East. The ‘Fertile Crescent’ curves in a quarter-moon shape from the Persian Gulf, through modern-day southern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and northern Egypt. This area is regarded as the Cradle of Civilization and was first populated about 10,000 B.C. when the domestication of animals began in the region. It is considered the birthplace of agriculture, urbanization, writing, trade, science, history and organized religion.

 

From this Neolithic start the Citron found its way throughout history and around the world:

 

  • Alexander the Great and his armies carried the citron to Europe about 300 BC;

  • A Jewish coin struck in 136 B.C. bore a representation of the citron on one side;

  • The Chinese in 284 AD spoke of a gift of “40 Chinese bushels of citrons from Ta-ch’in” (Ta-ch’in is understood to mean the Roman Empire);

  • The citron was a staple, commercial food item in Rome in AD 301;

  • Dioscorides mentioned citron in the 1st Century AD;

  • Greek colonists began growing the citron in Palestine about 200 B.C. The tree is assumed to have been successfully introduced into Italy in the 3rd Century;

  • By the year 1003, the citron was commonly cultivated at Salerno and fruits (called poma cedrina) were presented as a token of gratitude to Norman lords. Citron was used by the Jews in Italy, France and Germany for their Feast of the Tabernacles;

  • The tree was introduced into Puerto Rico in 1640;

  • Commercial citron culture and processing began in California in 1880. The trees suffered severe cold damage in 1913 and, within a few years, the project was abandoned;

  • Spaniards probably brought the citron to St. Augustine, FL although it could only have survived there greenhouses. From 1926 to 1936, there were scattered small plantings of citron in Florida but the groves eventually succumbed to cold.

 

Today the citron is rarely grown in the citrus producing areas of the USA and mostly as a curiosity. However several varieties of the citron are highly valued by chefs of the world and commercially grown in the warmer climates:

 

  • Corsican - is the leading citron of Corsica and was introduce in the United States around 1891 and is the apparent cultivator in California. An ellipsoid or obovate shape with rough and lumpy very thick peel and grows on a small spreading tree with moderate thorns and large spines.

  • Diamante - is the leading cultivator in Italy and preferred by processors elsewhere. This long-oval or ellipsoid shaped variety is smooth or faintly ribbed grows on a small thorny tree and is very similar to a cultivar grown in Cuba called “Earle”.

  • Etrog - is the leading cultivar in Israel. An ellipsoid, spindle-shaped fruit medium-small when harvested; if not picked early, it will remain on the tree, continuing to enlarge for years until the branch cannot support it. For ritual use, the fruit should be about 5 oz. and not oblong in form. The peel is yellow, semi-rough and bumpy, faintly ribbed, thick and fleshy. This cultivar has been the official citron for use in the Feast of the Tabernacles ritual but if unavailable any yellow, unblemished, similar shaped lemon-sized citron with can be substituted.

  • Fingered Citron - (‘Buddha’s Hand’, or ‘Buddha’s Fingers’). The fruit is corrugated, wholly or partly split into about 5 finger-like segments, with little or no flesh; seedless or with loose seeds. The fruit is highly fragrant and is placed as an offering on temple altars. It is commonly grown in China and Japan and candied China.

 

In India, there are several named types, in addition to the ‘Fingered’,
in the northwest:

 

  • Bajoura – small, with thin peel, much acid juice.

  • Chhangura – believed to be the wild form and commonly found in a natural state.

  • Madhankri or Madhkunkur – fruit large with sweetish pulp.

  • Turunj – large fruit, with thick peel, the white inner part sweet and edible.

 

Besides the curious appearance of the Buddha Hand variety, the Citron possesses several unique characteristics. One piece of this wonderfully fragrant fruit perfumes an entire room with the clean citrus fragrance and a slight hints of violets. The delicious peel is used in marmalades, and zests of the peel are used for fish, fresh salads, or in desserts. The Citron has been used both symbolically and medically by many cultures over a vast period of time.

 

SUNBURST is currently developing a source to provide this elusive and mysterious fruit and its many uses to our customers.

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