Is there anything more summery than large, colourful citrus fruits? While I’m partial do a bit of lemon most of the year round, there’s something about this bitter-sweet, sunshine yellow fruit that never fails to promote thoughts of summertime when I either look at or taste it.
Earlier in the summer, this lucky baker had the pleasure of travelling to one of the worlds best lemon producing regions… Sorrento in the Campania region (yes, most of my travels lead me to Italy). Beginning in Naples, I spent a delicious food fuelled adventure which also took me to Pompeii & the island of Capri. I have never set my eyes upon lemons so large & fresh in all my life. I was mesmerised by the troves of lemon trees dominating the Sorrento Peninsula & Capri hills, trailing alongside every winding road & generally just in any green space available. Markets & grocers all with attractive displays, its star temptress? Crates brimming with fresh Amalfi lemons.
Lemon trees cover a total surface area of 400 hectares here with an annual production of around 10,000,000 kg’s (that’s a lot of lemons!). A robust fruit, lemons are produced all year round but the best fruit is obtained from spring to late autumn, as the weather becomes increasingly hot, their flavour becomes more intense. Amalfi lemons have a medium to thick peel & are very fragrant. The flesh is pale yellow, very juicy, moderately tart & has a low number of seeds. It is also one of the richest lemons in ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Some might argue that these are the best lemons in the world (I would tend to agree), along with its Sicilian cousin of course.
Lemons, like many other Italian ingredients, are flexible enough to be used in a myriad of recipes, adding a beautiful citrus to cut through flavours in both savoury & sweet dishes. An astonishing 60% of lemons harvested in this region however are used to prepare Limoncello, a liqueur made from lemons born in the areas of Capri & Sorrento. Usually enjoyed in a simple shot as a digestif after a meal, this little yellow liqueur packs a bitter, alcoholic punch (not for the faint hearted).
Naturally following my eyes, nose, mouth & ever desiring appetite led me to many an obscure market & humble grocers, resulting in me acquiring a large collection of lemons to bring home (I would owe it to my panic buying pre-Brexit but it’s more likely purely down to my obsession with food). One of my favourite lemon purchases however was on Capri, not impressed with the main drag, which unfortunately was highly Americanised & catered for tourists (I much prefer to get a little lost & find some hidden gems)… I headed off the beaten track.
Whilst meandering through the maze of alleyways & beautifully crisp white & pastel coloured homes in temperatures well above 30C (us Welsh aren’t equipped for this), me & my parter in crime took respite from the heat in what can only be described as a tunnel, a cool, shaded tunnel meandering between buildings.
There were many an Italian dressed in chef’s whites smoking cigarettes or carting around crates of leafy greens, this was the back alley to many a fine restaurant. Hidden amongst the bustle & wonderful smells of fresh fish & pasta though was a humble little greengrocer (or fruttivendolo) stacked with the freshest fruits & veg, including some of the cheapest & largest lemons I’ve ever laid eyes on. Loaded with fruit, we proceeded to nibble & wander until we reached the other end of the island, sticky, sweaty & satisfied.
I have a knack (or some might simply call it sheer determination) for finding hidden foodie gems & bargains. Another hidden gem if you are ever in Sorrento is the wonderful Fattoria Terranova, a family run farm shop right in the heart of town but one that is hidden in plain sight. Their farm was actually located in the little village, Sant’Agata, high up in the Sorrento hills, right where we were staying, next time I’ll be sure to go there for a hearty meal or a cookery class. Whilst Limoncello can be bought pretty much everywhere in Sorrento, this little shop sells some of the finest, freshest Limoncello which now sits proudly a top my kitchen counter, just waiting for those long sunny evenings & a couple of chilled shot glasses.
Returning home to a not so sunny Wales but with a suitcase packed to the brim with sunshine (& olive oil), my thoughts quickly turned to finding a use for prized lemons. I’m a fan of a lemon drizzle & do enjoy a glass (or pitcher) of fruit filled Pimms come the summertime but my natural instinct is to preserve the joyful flavours of summer. Saving them to be enjoyed & bring a little glimmer of sunshine to the shorter, grey & gloomy days of seasons to come.
Those of you who are aware of the jam shelf will now that if there’s one thing I love even more than bread or cake… it’s a breakfast must, my blogs namesake & basically a life essential, marmalade! Using up my plethora of huge fragrant lemons & adding a dash of Limoncello, I made several jars of glistening bitter-sweet lemon marmalade. Now I can enjoy a little piece of the Italian coast every time I tuck into my thickly sliced seeded toast accompanied by a smooth brewed coffee, all whilst dressed in my Harry Potter pyjamas (now that’s living).
LEMON & LIMONCELLO MARMALADE
(makes around 8 454g jars)
- 1600g lemons
- 3200g granulated sugar
- 2 1/2 pints water
- 1 shot limoncello
- Before beginning, place a small saucer into the freezer to chill
- Add the water to a maslin pan or large heavy bottomed saucepan
- Halve & squeeze the lemons into the water
- Scoop all of the flesh & pith out of the lemons & place inside a piece of muslin cloth before tieing it together
- Cut the lemon peel into thinnish shreds & add this to the water
- Tie the muslin cloth to the handle of the pan so that it is suspended in the water
- Gently simmer the mixture for approximately 2 hours, until the peel has softened
- Remove the muslin cloth & leave to cool until cool enough to handle
- Squeeze as much of the juices & jelly out of the muslin cloth as possible & add this to the pan
- Add a sugar thermometer to the pan & bring the mixture to the boil
- Continue to boil the mixture until it reaches 102°C on the thermometer (20-15 minutes)
- Test to see if setting point has been reached by placing a small drop of the marmalade onto the chilled saucer
- Push your finger through the marmalade & if the surface wrinkles, it’s done. If not continue cooking for a further a few minutes & test again
- Leave the jam to cool undisturbed for 20 minutes
- Pot up into clean, sterilised jars & label
A simple step-by-step: