EXETER, Calif. — The citron is an unusual fruit.
It's an ancient citrus varietal, one that's lumpy, wrinkly and somewhat oblong.
You won't find it in most grocery stores. It's not a La Croix flavor. It isn't showing up on many cooking shows.
But it is special.
For thousands of years, the citron has been a part of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. A vital element of the tradition, the fruit is held while reciting a daily blessing during the weeklong harvest celebration, which this year begins Friday at sundown.
For the last 40 years or so, many Jews in America have been celebrating with citrons grown by a single large U.S. supplier: Lindcove Ranch. To cultivate this esoteric fruit, the San Joaquin Valley farm complies with various Jewish agricultural laws and gets every relevant approval from a kosher supervision service.
Greg Kirkpatrick, who operates the Exeter, Calif., farm, is not Jewish. He's Presbyterian — and he hasn't been to church lately. This year, though, he's been tested like a figure from the Bible — Old Testament, New Testament, take your pick.
On a recent weekday afternoon, Kirkpatrick eyed a row of spindly citron trees whose branches were supported by a network of trellises and twine. He fingered a waxy shoot. Kirkpatrick, 62, wasn't pleased. Far from it.
As head of his family's specialty citrus farm, Kirkpatrick has dutifully tended to this crop. Despite those efforts, the trees — thrown out of whack by the epic rainstorms that throttled this part of California starting in January — were not cooperating. By March, they should have been covered in flower buds. There were none.
"That's when I started to worry," he said.
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