It’s a bad day in the Epicurienne household if we run out of lemons. Monsieur and I use them for just about everything – squeezed over salads, in sauces for fish and seafood, in lemony vinaigrettes, on spaetzle, on roast potatoes… So imagine my delight on finding gigantic lemons in Italy!
The first time I saw such mammoth citrus was on walking to the car after a steamy day spent exploring the ruins of Pompeii. “eeee” I squeaked, in a fit of excitement, causing Monsieur to stop abruptly. He thought I’d been stung by one of the many wasps hanging around that day. Nothing so painful, I’d simply spied a fruit stand selling the biggest lemons I’d ever seen in my entire life.
To give you some idea of what we’re talking about, the two crates on the bottom right of the photo contain lemons of about five to six inches in length.
“Let’s take some home!” I suggested to Monsieur,
“No,” came his firm reply, “they’re too heavy.” and I’d regretted it ever since.
Then in January, I visited a Taormina grocer to stock up on packs of South Italian herb mixes. On the fruit and veg stand outside the shop were huge artichokes, fire engine red tomatoes, chilli plants and the massive lemons I’d seen at Pompeii, only even larger.
Monsieur wasn’t with me and therefore couldn’t say no. I bought two to take home. As long as it was in my luggage, he’d have nothing to complain about.
In fact, these gargantuan citrus fruit are known as ‘CITRON’ with the most ancient evidence of its existence being seeds found at Mesopotamian sites. Alexander the Great and his army reputedly aided the distribution of this citrus, as did the Romans who sent bushels of the fruit to China as a gift in the 4th Century AD. It’s around the same era that cultivation of the fruit on the islands of Sardinia and Sicily was first recorded.
At home, I carefully unpacked my giant yellow fruit with pride. They were surprisingly light, given their size, something to do with the fact that once open, they’re mostly white pith, with very little flesh.
(Citron on the right with regular lemon on the left to give idea of size)
Unfortunately, my darling citrons had not survived the flight in great shape; they now had a light dusting of white mould, but that wasn’t going to stop me from having fun. After all, I love cheese and cheese is mould.
And so, I chopped them open. The fleshy part was only the size of a regular lemon. The rest of the interior was white pith, but according to my research, this was edible white pith. The flesh was sweeter than a regular lemon, gladly lacking in eye-stinging sharpness. No wonder some folk eat the citron like a grapefruit.
In Sicily, citron are often candied, used to decorate cannoli and other sweets. They can also be added to ricotta cakes or made into marmalades. But the recipe I love best is for Citron Salad.
Remove the outer yellow peel from the citron, then chop the fruit into chunks. Place in a bowl and toss with a sprinkling of salt. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve.
(You can prepare oranges in the same fashion for an equally refreshing salad. )
For a variation, once the lemon chunks have been tossed with the salt and olive oil, dollop them onto a bed of watercress, sprinkle with pine nuts and serve. The sweet lemon taste goes so well with the bite of watercress, and the pine nuts add a subtle quality of taste and texture.
Now all I have to do is work out how to get citrons in London. If you know, please leave me a comment.