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The Citrus Blessing

I have always favored print materials over digital - bending back the cover of a book’s old, supple spine, fumbling through unfolding the newspaper, and piling the latest issues of my favorite magazines on the coffee table to casually peruse when a minute or two drifts my way. Over the years the New York Times has climbed my list of preferred print media - travel, real estate, theater, book lists, and of course, Wednesday’s cooking section! I love the eclectic mix of cultures, restaurants, recipes, and food stories featured on the long, thin sheets of newsprint. 

Years ago, I began clipping interesting recipes and stories and saving them in a sleeve. From time to time, I consider organizing them in a binder but there is something about the rudimentary, haphazard pile that speaks to me. Flipping through the stack and unfolding the random-sized rectangles while sitting cross-legged on the floor reminds me

of the days when I would empty my piggy bank to roll coins.  The combination of nostalgia and curiosity makes sorting the recipes all the more fun.

One of the recipes that I saved a few years back was for key lime bars. Although quite similar to classic lemon bars, somehow substituting key limes for lemons transforms the classic dessert into an exotic delectable treat. One thing led to another and, before I knew it, I was shopping for a large ceramic pot for the key lime tree that followed me home from my local nursery.

My vision of transforming homegrown key limes into light green squares of delight, however, did not come to fruition. While the tree is still alive, it has not flowered and therefore not produced fruit. I wouldn’t say that I neglected it, but I also wouldn't classify staring at it quizzically while wondering what I did wrong as properly caring for it either. Nonetheless, I continued to water it; “putting off til tomorrow what could be done today.”

Several months ago “tomorrow” finally arrived. My desire to grow potted citrus, particularly lemons, increased. I began reading, researching, and listening to podcasts to gain the knowledge needed to one day yield results. In the process, I learned all the things I did wrong (or for a positive spin, all the things I could improve on) - more sunlight, consistent watering, pot choices, etc…

As I continued to learn about caring for potted citrus, I became enthralled in the history of citrus dating back thousands of years ago, its role in the Italian economy, how it ended up in America, and how what we consider traditional fruits like lemons and oranges are actually hybrids of 3 main citrus: citrons, pomelos, and mandarins.

The day before New Year’s Eve, Mike and I were taking the sighthounds on their long morning stroll. As we meandered along one of our usual routes, It seemed like around every corner we turned citrus was on display. Oranges were dotting backyard landscapes, pomelos of enormous size were peeking over fences begging to be picked, and potted Meyer lemon trees were decorating front porches as if to say “hello”!

As the pups continued along, processing the multitude of new scents, I shared stories I learned from my recent reading, The Land Where the Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee. We discussed the lemon houses (limonaie) of Lake Garda, the lemon groves of Sicily and the Silician mafia, and the blood oranges of Catania. Despite the slow pace of the pups, the walk seemed to fly by. 

As the walk was coming to an end, we crossed paths with a man walking with a bag. He stopped to compliment the Slevin, Cherokee, and Felix and share a story or two about sighthounds he encountered back home in India. Just before we departed to go our separate ways, I noticed that his bag was full of lemons - of all things! He generously offered me one which I politely declined expressing that I could not possibly take his just-picked fruit. He sincerely replied, “It is my blessing.” I reached into the bag and picked what felt like a gift of monumental proportions.  After all, what better time to be gifted a beautiful lemon than at the end of one year and the start of another?

I decided to use the lemon to make mini Italian lemon crostatas to help us ring in the new year. To me, this lemon is a symbol of good fortune and all good things to come in 2024.

As for the lime tree, it has been repotted and moved to a sunnier location. Two terracotta pots are patiently waiting for lemon trees to make their homes in their empty spaces. With a little luck and a lot of love hopefully, my backyard will be my version of a limonaie.



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