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A “zest” of lemons…

…from what we thought was the orange tree!!

Right now, our “Italian”* lemon tree is loaded with rapidly ripening fruit. A glorious rich green, they are blushed with orange-yellow from the sun.

When picked and cut in half, they exude a bright, fresh, citrusy smell; the juice is wonderfully tangy, yet delicate for all its flavour.

After the trouble with the guavas, it’s satisfying to report a success; but gardening is like that – one year a healthy tree or plant and a good crop, the next year a misfortune, unless one is highly experienced, ever-watchful and, I think, lucky.

So what we bought as an orange tree has this year done us proud, even if the fruit are not quite what we intended: it’s the root stock (lemon) that is overbearing, while the scion is struggling to make space for itself. We could cut the root stock right back to give the orange more room, but don’t like to: it would seem ungrateful.

Last year, we had one orange, and four lemons high up on the tree. This year there are no oranges, but dozens of lemon at all heights. I don’t know what the collective noun for a great crop of lemons might be, but I’m tempted to go with a “zest”.

We’ve started picking them even though they have not turned fully yellow, as most farmers do here in Egypt, and bringing them into the kitchen.

Lemons (and with them, limes) may well be my favourite fruit because they are so versatile. First and foremost, I add a slice and a few sprigs of fresh mint to a jug of filtered water. Straight from the fridge, this is the most refreshing drink to help take the edge off the summer heat.

Lemon courgette and herb spaghetti

Then there are myriad uses in savoury dishes: as a marinade, along with olive oil and a handful of fresh parsley, rosemary and thyme, for chicken.  For vegetarians, I pep up a dish of quinoa with courgettes and pumpkin by squeezing lemon juice over the finished product: it makes such a difference. And I use the zest of a lemon with courgettes, rosemary and sage, complemented by some soft white cheese, as a sauce for spaghetti (from Mary McCartney’s book, simply titled “Food”*).

Also from McCartney’s book, a cake to die for: Lemon drizzle cake. Very simply made, with the usual ingredients of a sponge cake, but rather less butter to sugar and flour, and adding the zest of 3 lemons, the cake is completed by skewering it all over and then allowing a syrup made of icing sugar and the juice of the lemons to soak in.

This is the best of cakes to have with tea on the balcony, after a hard afternoon’s work in the garden. Sheer bliss!

* This kind of lemon tree is referred to by Egyptians as “Italian” as distinct from the lime trees that are more commonly cultivated in Egypt. I have no further information to identify the tree, as there are so many different cultivars. Of course, lemons did not originate in Italy, even if they are identified with it!

*”Food” by Mary McCartney, published by Chatto & Windus, 2012


2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Aniruddha Banerjee #

    Beautiful lemon tree! I am from Bangalore, India and I grow plants in my terrace garden at home. I came across your blog when searching for where I can get saplings of Italian lemon in Cairo. I am visiting Cairo in October 2016 as a tourist. Would you be able to guide me to a place in Cairo where I can get Italian lemon saplings?

    August 31, 2016
  2. Hello Aniruddha: Thank you for your comment and enquiry. It’s very good to know that you will be coming to Cairo.
    As you may have understood from the article, we have had some difficulty in identifying our fruit tree saplings with any certainty: one of the main problems with plant nurseries in Egypt is the lack of labels on plants and trees for sale. Assurances of identity from the nurseryman may not be wholly reliable.
    If you can let me know when you will be in Cairo, and where you will be staying, I will do my best to help track down some saplings in a nursery near where you will be. The suburb of Maadi, or else Giza, are good places to look; alternatively, i will see if an organic farmer I know of could help.

    August 31, 2016

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