The Lemons of Italy

blue and white bowl full of lemos and cut up lemon in front
Bowl of Lemons

Since following plant-based recipes, lemons are an ingredient I now use more frequently. They are extremely versatile for many dishes and can provide a light, fresh tangy flavor to savoury dishes, baked goods or drinks or be used simply as a garnish. In Canada, our lemons primarily come from Mexico and like many of us, I buy them in the grocery store and have never given much thought to their origins.

However, this changed a few years ago after staying at an Agritourism during a cycling trip in Italy. When small scale farming started to become less profitable in Italy, Agritourism evolved as a way to combine agriculture with tourism. They are essentially farm holidays and it is a unique way to enjoy the countryside of Italy. The Agritourism we stayed at was a lemon grove between Sorrento and the Almalfi Coast, an area that claims to be the home of the true lemon.

Travelling to the Lemon Grove

The journey to the lemon grove ended up as memorable as the visit itself. We arrived in Naples by train in the late afternoon and the biggest challenge was navigating the cobbled streets to exit the city as well as avoid the mass of scooters weaving in and out of the already dense traffic.  Since Agritourisms are usually off the beaten track, we quickly got lost. This was about same the time as the heavens opened.  Our experience of Italian storms had been one-minute dry, next minute deluge and this was no exception.  By this point it was getting dark and the last part of the journey was winding our way up a steep cliff road lit only by the intermittent flashes of lightening.  

When we finally arrived, we were exhausted and completely drenched and were led to our room through the garden and lemon grove.  In the darkness, with senses heightened, we maneuvered through the dripping foliage as it exuded a sweet, fresh fragrance in the warmth of the late summer evening. Suddenly all the hardship of the previous few hours was forgotten.  The next morning the skies had cleared. The sun was streaming down, glinting off the last vestiges of raindrops from the previous night, revealing the lemon grove in all its glory. Eating breakfast surrounded by lemons in the dappled sunlight, with views of the plunging mountainside in the distance, left us no doubt that we had arrived in “lemon country”!

close up of flower bloom with raindrops
Garden in Italian Lemon Grove
close up of lemons on trees with raindrops
Italian Lemon Grove

The Italians and the Lemon

Even though there may be disagreement regarding which region in Italy the best lemons come from, as a culture there seems no doubt of the importance of this vibrant and delicious fruit. It was evident everywhere we looked with bright, big lemons painted on ceramics, rows and rows of Limoncello, and fruit stands filled with lemons the size of softballs. 

As well as enjoying the visual experience of lemons everywhere, the presence of lemons in the cuisine was just as popular and lemons contributed a tangy flavor and tart fragrance to the marinades for pasta and a refreshing zing to leafy salads. In fact, there was evidence that Italians enjoy every part of the lemon, including the peel and rind leaving only the remaining seeds which are planted to start the process of growth all over again. 

Do lemons have any nutritional value?

No matter where they come from, lemons are an excellent source of vitamin C as well as provide small amounts of thiamin, vitamin B6, and folate. Not generally considered a good source of minerals they do, however, contain small amounts of calcium, iron, and potassium.

What are the health benefits of lemons?

Throughout history, the primary health benefit of lemons has been attributed primarily to its high level of vitamin C. As a powerful anti-oxidant, Vitamin C can reduce oxidative stress, as well as produce collagen in skin cells, which help to support skin structure and delay signs of aging. Vitamin C has been shown to play an important role in immune function.

view looking over the coastline on the island of capri in italy
Italy, view from the Island of Capri

Closing Thoughts

Classed as the most used citrus fruit, lemons are a perfect staple to keep on hand for many things and will serve to add a zing to many tired vegetables or cupboard ingredients. For me, lemons will forever be associated with the wet, wet road from Naples, the nighttime arrival at the lemon grove and the contrast of the morning splendour in the heart of Italian lemon country. It brings the fruit to life and is a good reminder, as with all fruits and vegetables, that there is a whole story of the product long before it reaches the supermarket shelves.

One of the uses for lemon includes sauces and dressings found at Tahini Based Sauces and Dressings.

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2 thoughts on “The Lemons of Italy

  1. didejujoni August 5, 2020 / 5:24 am

    Thanks for an interesting story and I will try to make sure I use more lemons in my cooking from now on.

    Like

  2. The Dragon's Picnic August 5, 2020 / 7:41 pm

    Glad you liked the story and hope you enjoy using more lemons!

    Like

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