Lemons + Varietals

Lemons_Varietals final

Lemon + Varietals

Lemon; To wake from sunlight tantalizing your cheek

It’s hard to write about an ingredient I’ve never tasted before. Being I don’t live in Italy. Or a stone skip away from the nearest place growing this particular range of fruit. But I am determined to go on because I did my best to taste without tasting. One day (I do imagine), but for now, I am happy with my research. And I shall be ready when I stumble upon the great lemon from my dreams! But for what I do tastefully know; the New York corner stand lemon. Sharp, not sweet, juicy, a rind mostly plain, but then a bit of a hairy aftertaste. This plump sponge is what I’ve been squeezing and candying in far too many recipes without thinking about the fruit doing so much of the work. It wasn’t until a great unveiling of tomatoes and their distinctive varieties this summer, that I thought there must be more to many ingredients I thought to know. Like the lemon. And it came to mind first because it’s natural quality of, addictiveness? It’s that cleansing tang. It’s perfect for helping a chewy, salty and oily fish slide through the mouth. It’s perfect when grated into the dough of a morning cookie. For some reason, lemon, feels, renewing. I really love lemon, and what I have learnt from tasting tomatoes of different terroirs this summer, I think, I could love lemons even more, knowing more. So, I’ve conducted a study of lemons. A lot of reading lead me here. And I’ve made a small list of lemons to remember and to always seek when spotting yellow.

Femminello: the most popular variety grown in Italy is read to be much like our New York corner stand lemon. Albeit perhaps a bit sweeter. One day will have to try. This is the A.P. of lemons. It can do it all, but certainly, quite right for  squeezing onto a lunch of pasta, anchovy and fried breadcrumbs.

Verdelli: green skin and starved! Yet not sickly at all. Well, perhaps maybe the poor lemon tree felt so until an infiltration of water did finally come about. One to two months later. This stress and relief, induces an unconventional bloom. That will ready to be plucked from the tree the following summer, when the supply is lowest and the demand is high. With it’s mark from the starve, Verdelli lemons are to be like regular lemons just with green skin. It’s hard to say much more than that until it’s sliced and squeezed!

Ponderosa: pondered to be a cross between a lemon and citron. As its size might tell, it looks like a citron, but a cross section will show it to look like a lemon. Sour, and then a flowery after taste. Lovely. Sounds delicate, and cleansing, as it might make one’s lips pucker. This is a very juicy lemon with a fairly substantial pith as well, right for marmalade-ing.

Citrus Limetta: Limoo Shirin in Iran or Bergamot in France, this lemon looks like the sun as the day sets, and many of us begin to wind down. It has a thin yet, protective coat, bearing inside cells ready to burst with a sweet and tasting juice. Freshly squeezed, a glass be along with breakfast. Perhaps breaking out a bag of papadum crackers, speckled with cumin and salt. Or the Italian variety, pane carasau (sheet music), with a bit of rosemary and salt perhaps a few fennel seeds too. A morning to sing too.

Meyer: Petite and sweet. Grown in California and quite fairly readily available even here in New York. Thought to originally come from China it’s considered to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. I can chase this one down next! Making lemon desserts with likely, less sugar, since there’s no need to balance the acidity. A win-win indeed!  

Citron: Not a lemon but an orb, displaying itself of the famed lemon, in the most grandmotherly way. And it is. Citron is believed to have been introduced to Sicily by the Arabs many years ago in the 10th century. And what’s most interesting about citron, is that it’s the white absorbent pith you eat and relish. The fruit, strongly perfumed for the nose, yet it’s taste is delicate, sweet and a bit spicy. It’s sponge like being is right for carrying that lovely bottle of olive in the cupboard. Sicilians slice the pith, tossing with olive oil and capers or marinated olives, leaving to sit for an hour before serving. Dishes like this is what I think lunch was meant meant to be. When all you have on hand is the curious orb, the rest coming together from the pantry. Anchovies resting at the rim of the sink, filleted from the large tin kept in the cold spot in the refrigerator. A hunk of crusty bread, especially one full of earthy bran a sweet germ, to mop up the remaining olive and the splatter of fruity olive oil. One dish used, a serrated knife and a fork.

And as I daydream; a bell rings in my head. Candied citron! So, it’s this confection lightly tossed in Italian pastry such as cakes, ricotta fillings, and favorite of all, panettone. I love the aroma, so much I wish I could smell like it. Surely there is a French perfumery doing just that. But, for now, a kitchen full of the scent sounds delightful. And the reward of having candied citron to play with along with its perfumed syrup sounds life enriching. There are a few ways to go about it, most simply, slicing with rind on, into pinky finger length batons and candying for about an hour. Or more Provencal, candying whole. Taking about a week’s time, the result is a dazzling vibrant orb, nearly translucent, intensely sweet and a marvel by its own. I can’t help but wonder which came first in Provence; the candied fruits or the fruit chandeliers.

The candied citron, will keep for a year, to be diced and tossed in anything that comes about. The syrup will last equally as long, but I am usually eager to douse. Upon cakes, first coming to mind a baba, plump with raisins! Maybe then thinly glazed with a white royal icing. And a simplified version of the Italian soda, Cedrata. Just a splash of the syrup and a glug of sparking water. Lovely in a chilled tall glass, in the afternoon, before the day has almost wound down to an evening with loved ones. I know the syrup wouldn’t last me long.  

Candied Citron and Syrup
2 Citron, yielding about 500g fruit, sliced into pinky finger length batons of equal size.
600g sugar
500g water
Tablespoon of glucose /or, light corn syrup
First cover the citron batons in barely simmering water until they are translucent, this will take about a half hour. This processes removes all water content in the fruits cells, readying those cells to be filled with sugar. When ready, drain. Fill a pot, with the citron batons, sugar, water and inverted sugar and bring to a boil. Use a candy thermometer to watch the temperature. When the temperature reaches soft ball stage, 230ºF, turn off and allow to cool until room temperature. Don’t fear if there is no candy thermometer amongst the spoons and ladles! This can be done with a watchful eye, which I prefer more often than not. One less thing to clean! When the syrup is past it’s vigorous bubbling and thickens so that each bubble that emerges seems to be slow and dramatic, you’ve reaches soft ball stage. Don’t let it go on, caramel comes quick. Which isn’t a bad mistake, how about a take on Torta Arluno? While the syrup cools to room temperature, perhaps run some errands and finish up in the evening.
Now that the citron and syrup of cooled, drain the batons from the luscious syrup, reserving for future projects, like soaked baba or topped with double the amount of sparkling water for a little soda. Not much of a project at all and more of a simple pleasure in life.
What’s left is still quite sticky citron batons, continue to drain by placing colander over a sheet pan, to reserve extra syrup, and allowing to sit perhaps an hour, lightly tossing once or twice. The citron batons can then either be tossed in a bowl of granular sugar, or left as is, as I like, and stored in an airtight container. To be diced in many future pastries to come into your life this year!

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