Lemons for Summer

When I think of lemons, I think of Italy: my favourite country to travel to, with a cuisine that celebrates these beautiful citrus fruit in every way. There is a wonderful book, written by Helena Attlee – The Land Where Lemons Grow – an exploration of both Italy and its extraordinary production of citrus fruit, which I read a few years ago. I’ve since re-read it several times, to squeeze out every last word of this evocative, informative odyssey into my two great passions: Italy and lemons.

lemons

I first encountered real Italian lemons as a child when I visited family friends in Northern Italy one summer. All along the terrace, which stretched the length of the front of the house, were huge terracotta pots holding lemon trees, covered in deep green leaves and hanging with bright yellow fruit. I had seen a million lemons in fruit bowls before but I had never seen a lemon growing from a tree. When I picked one, I saw the skin was thick and covered in deep pores, unlike the smooth wax-dipped British imports. Just holding the fruit in my hands made the citrus oils seep out onto my skin, perfuming them with a fragrance of zest, sunshine and freshness.

Italians have known these pleasures for thousands of years and although we often associate citrus growing with southern areas like the Amalfi coast, I later learnt in Attlee’s book that historically a thriving business also had operated close to where I was, around Lake Garda. Here the cooler climates produced lemons with an acidity which appealed to the Northern European market. The reason the lemons I saw were growing in pots, was not just a way to decorate the terrace, it was so the trees could be moved, when the temperatures drop dramatically in the winter, into purpose built limonaia or insulated lemon houses.

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Cedro lemon risotto

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Giant cedro lemons at La Fromagerie in London

When shopping in La Fromagerie in London yesterday, I discovered a basket full of giant Cedro lemons. It is rare to see these fabulous fruit sold in London, but if you stumble across them, be sure to buy one – you’re in for a treat. The Cedro lemon (or Citron as they are called in English) is actually one of the four original varieties of citrus fruits – along with pummelo, mandarine and papeda (from which yuzu and kaffir fruits derive).

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The best Ice – size matters

I recently wrote a post about my favourite cocktail of the moment, a Bees Knees: https://blanchevaughan.wordpress.com/category/bees/

But there’s another, more classic drink with a similar flavour balance – rich, sweet and sour – that deserves a place in this blog.

Whisky sour is up there with the great cocktails, and if you’re partial to shaking one up, as I am, this is the drink to get started with.

Whisky sour Shot 2014-10-16 at 15.47.25

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Agretti – did you know?

We planted some agretti (salsola soda) this spring. It sounds like a drink, but it’s actually something you eat. I’d been aware of this strange green vegetable for some time – the Italians love it and it is often served in restaurants during early spring. Occasionally I had spotted it at my local greengrocer, who specialises in Italian produce, but what was the story of this curious, green, succulent plant with bunches of spikey tendrils?

Curious green spikes growing from seed

Curious green spikes growing from seed

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