In addition to being a classic ice cream flavour, throughout Italy lemon has always been the absolute protagonist of fresh granitas and unforgettable liqueurs. There are, however, some areas where the tradition of its processing and cultivation is particularly long.
When we think of citrus fruits, the category of fruit to which also lemon belongs, for example we think of what is considered the land of citrus fruits par excellence, that is Sicily.
In Italy, however, good and juicy lemons do not grow only on this charming and sunny island. Along with the famous Siracusa lemon, we can find other excellent Italian lemons such as the Sorrento lemons, the “sfusato” Amalfi lemon, the fragrant lemons that grow on the island of Ischia and those that can be found in northern Italy, in the area that surrounds the Lake Garda.
A famous Italian proverb says “The world is beautiful because it is varied”, and the same concept also applies to lemon.
From Sicily to Lake Garda, without forgetting Sorrento and Ischia, lemons are at our disposal to give a touch of freshness to the hottest days of summer.
Lemons are also the fundamental ingredient of the most famous liqueur in the world: we are obviously talking about Limoncello. Homemade limoncello is often the pride of the Neapolitans, who offer it to their guests as the most precious gift. Prepared by macerating lemon zest in alcohol and diluting in water and sugar, it is an excellent way to end a meal.
Campanian lemons in Sorrento
The famous lemon that grows on the Sorrento peninsula is among the renowned typical products that have obtained the PGI quality mark.
It belongs to the “limone femminello” cultivar, and it has peculiar organoleptic characteristics and precise cultivation methods.
Also known as the “Sorrento oval” because of its typical ovoid shape, this fruit grows in the Sorrento area since very distant times. This fact is evidenced by the discovery of documents dating back to the 16th century.
However, given the great appreciation that the Romans had for this fruit, a cultivation started even earlier than the one described in the aforementioned historical documentation cannot be excluded. In any case, the first and oldest Sorrento area cultivated with lemon groves is the “Gesus”. This still exists today, it is located in the municipality of Massa Lubrense and was started by the local Jesuit fathers in the 17th century.
The particular cultivation technique, that makes this fruit unique and different from the others, lies in the use of the “paglierine ” (paglia means “straw” in Italian). Originally it consisted in particular installations made with wooden poles and straw roofs that served to create a partial shade area on the crops. In this way the trees were protected from the wind and from possible frosts, while the fruit took longer to ripen.
Today Sorrento lemons are widely used as a condiment, but not only. In this area it is also possible to taste a very special typical lemon coffee, while the liqueur par excellence that belongs to the Italian culinary tradition derives exactly from these fruits: we are talking about the fragrant and sweet Sorrento limoncello.
PGI Siracusa lemon
Siracusa lemon, a product that has obtained the PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) quality mark, is among the most representative lemon varieties in Italy (even if it is certainly not the only one). It grows in the land of citrus fruits par excellence and it belongs to the femminello cultivar, which is very juicy and can provide for high quality essential oils.
One of the peculiarities of this lemon is that its tree has three blooms every year: the “primofiore”, the “bianchetto” and finally the “verdello”.
The fruit is edible in all its parts, since its cultivation absolutely forbids the use of waxes and fungicides before packaging.
The juice and peel of the Siracusa lemons are precious and highly sought by the food companies for the production of ice creams, candies, liqueurs, marmalades, various confectionery products, and other semi-finished products.
Essential oils, on the other hand, are widely used in cosmetics and perfumeries.
Lemons and oranges are donated on the occasion of the feast of Saint Lucia, as a sign of devotion to the patroness of the city of Syracuse.
The “sfusato” Amalfi lemon
The Amalfi Coast lemon, commonly called “Sfusato Amalfitano” (Limon Amalphitanus) is a PGI product too. This variety differs from Sorrento lemons by the very characteristics of the fruit and its cultivation. These lemons belong to the femminello cultivar too, but it falls into the “sfusato” category.
Richer in pulp and vitamin C, the cultivation of this fruit spread along the Amalfi Coast between the 15th and the 19th century, when its medicinal properties in the fight against scurvy were discovered. In the 11th century, the Republic of Amalfi decreed that there should always be stocks of these fruits on board ships.
Today the “sfusato” lemon is eaten fresh, is used as a condiment or is as an ingredient in the preparation of desserts and cakes.
The uniqueness of these fruits is given by a territorial peculiarity: the lands on which they grow are exposed to the warm winds coming from the south, while at the same time the Lattari Mountains protect them from the north wind, the typical cold wind that comes from the Nordic countries.
Ischia lemon: here is the most fascinating use for this precious fruit
The island of Ischia, located near the Neapolitan coast, is a volcanic land that in spring is coloured by the fragrant lemon fruits that grow on the trees of the citrus groves. Its territory, due to the presence of numerous thermal waters and mud, makes Ischia the island of well-being par excellence. So the lemon, known and highly appreciated by the ancient Romans already, on this island can show its aesthetic properties.
Among the benefits of lemon that are very well known on the island, in addition to its healing and lightening power, there are also peculiarities such as its ability to stimulate the formation of new epithelial cells and the ability to actively fight the aging of the skin. For this reason, a particular use of this fruit is widespread in Ischia: the peeling done with salt, oil and fresh lemons, which is indicated after spa treatments to make the skin smooth and soft.
The historic lemons of Riva del Garda
The limoncello that is most famous abroad, in addition to the one that is produced with Sorrento lemons, is the one made with lemons grown in the Lake Garda area.
This magnificent fruit was brought to Riva del Garda during the 13th century by the friars of San Francesco di Gargnano. The friars, taking lemons from nearby Liguria, began to build the large and historic orangeries that still characterize the area today. These were greenhouses that allowed the production of lemons (together with cedars and oranges) at any time of the year, making it possible to export them to other European countries as well.
The orangeries were obtained by expertly installing terraces on the nearby mountains, and then surrounding them with high walls that would have protected the plants even from the harsh winter cold. On these walls were in fact placed fir beams that constituted the winter cover. The orangeries are therefore part of the historical and architectural heritage of the Garda and, in order to safeguard them, their structures are often renovated and restored to make them resist the passing of time.
Some interesting facts and other uses besides gastronomy
Lemon (or Citrus limon) is a citrus plant whose exquisite fruits originated in north-eastern India. However, they are appreciated all over the world since ancient times because of their disinfectant and thirst-quenching properties and for the taste of their juice, as well as for the unmistakable aroma of their golden skin.
In ancient times lemon was cultivated also in China and Mongolia and used in the preparation of refreshing drinks, while on the other hand lemon fruits already appear in representations dating back to Roman times. They spread in fact in the West towards the 8th century and were brought to Liguria and Campania by the Crusaders, who had found these plants in the territories of Syria and Palestine.
According to other botanists, however, the oldest variety of this fruit is the cultivar called Limone Femminello: this variety has been cultivated since the year 1000 in Puglia, on the Gargano coastal territory. It was a renowned remedy for scurvy and it was proposed by the Schola Medica Salernitana as a remedy for various other diseases, thus establishing itself more and more in Campanian gardens.
Symbolism linked to lemon in Italy and in the world
In India, which as we said is the birthplace of the precious lemon tree, the fruit took on an important symbolic meaning. Hindu widows who voluntarily chose to immolate themselves on the funeral pyre where their husband’s body burned, traditionally held a lemon fruit while doing so. This was a symbol of love and faithfulness. According to ancient Greek myths, in fact, lemons were produced by the Earth in honour of the wedding between Juno and Jupiter and kept in the Garden of the Hesperides (the place where the famous “golden apples” that triggered the Trojan war grew).
In more recent centuries and up until a few decades ago, lemon acquired (by association with cedar) a truly important symbolic role in some religious rites such as baptisms, confirmations and weddings. The Jews used the so-called etrog (Hebrew name used to call the cedar, or more generally the fruits belonging to the Citrus genus), during the celebration of the Sukkot, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles. During this very important celebration, Jewish families used to leave for a pilgrimage to Israel that would last seven days. In Germany, on the other hand, lemons were brought by celebrants and faithful during funerals.
Lemon as a pharmacological remedy
Lemon is one of the oldest existing pharmacological remedies. In ancient times, lemon juice was used in fact as an antihemorrhagic, antidiarrheal, hypoglycemic and disinfectant. With regard to this last characteristic, it is known that in Sicily, where the water is not completely drinkable, there was the traditional custom of putting cut lemons in the water reserves in order to make them potable. This fruit has always been considered refreshing, tonic, bactericidal with antiseptic action, as well as useful for various inflammations (such as gingivitis and arthritis), against calluses and warts and to lower blood pressure. However, lemon was considered indispensable, as the only existing remedy, for the terrible disease that afflicted sailors: we are talking about the scurvy, a disease caused by the lack of vitamin C. For this reason, around the 17th century, Portuguese sailors brought lemon plants on the Island of Saint Helena, therefore making this area the first important treatment station for this dreaded disease.