The lemon of Massa Lubrense
THE LEMON (Citrus Limonum)
Lemon, like other citrus fruits, belongs to the Rutacaee family. The stem can reach up to about 5 meters. The leaves are alternate and leathery, bright green in color. It has white flowers called “zagare”. The fruit is a berry, called “esperidio”, of intense yellow color and oval shape with smooth or wrinkled skin. It is rich in vitamin A and C, citric acid, and sugars. Lemon has remarkable properties: astringent, antiscorbutic, and disinfectant.
The lemon of Massa Lubrense, called “oval lemon” or “femminiello”, is characterized by a straw yellow pulp, juice rich in vitamin C and mineral salts, and peel rich in essential oils. The Sorrento Peninsula is the homeland of lemons, those with a capital L: large and bright yellow, with a succulent and fragrant pulp, they are in demand and coveted from all over the world.
Lemon is not just the leader of the kitchen: it seasons vegetables and fish, and refreshes the meat. Lemon sorbet and limoncello help digestion. Lemons are also the inevitable ingredients of many cocktails, not to mention the fundamental role they play in the preparation of desserts and cakes.
The lemon tree prefers regions with a warm, constant climate; it starts fruiting after 4-5 years and produce fruits in increasing quantities until the fifteenth year of life. A stabilized plant can live and produce up to eighty years if properly coltivated. In a suitable environment, as we said, it is a flowering plant that bears fruit throughout the year: an adult plant produces 200 to 600 fruits a year. The main flowering of the “zagare” takes place in April and May, spreading in the citrus grove an intense and heady scent.
The effects of frosts on lemon trees are attenuated by covering them in winter, first with chestnut or oak ash and then, around 1885, with the famous “pagliarella”. It is a straw mat of m. 1.30 x 2.00, originally resting on the crown of lemons and then on the pergolas of chestnut poles. Under the cover of the straw, to maintain the highest temperature, on the coldest days, the farmers used to create warm air, burning wet straw and grass leaves, as the Romans did in ancient times. The need to find chestnut poles makes it necessary to replace the Neapolitan alder on the Sorrento hills with chestnut coppices.
The canopy for lemons is made using the following materials:
- vertical poles (lined) of chestnut wood of 12-13 years, 6-7 meters high, with a head diameter of cm. 6-7;
- horizontal chestnut poles (currents) tall m. 6, with a head diameter of 5 cm;
- cross chestnut poles (crosspieces) 7 m high, with a head diameter of cm. 6-7;
- straw of rye straw, with an area of just under 3 square metres each;
- windbreak, built with chestnut poles of the type “currents” and chestnut strips (chierchie).
From the maceration of the lemon skins, an authentic elixir is obtained: limoncello. A liqueur with known digestive properties, that in recent years has found wide diffusion on the tables of Italians.
Recipe of Limoncello
- 1 liter of alcohol;
- 12 lemons from Massa Lubrense;
- ¾ of water;
- 600 g. of sugar.
Infuse the lemon peels with alcohol for seven days. Boil the water and pour in the sugar; let it cool and add it to the alcohol filtered from the lemon peel. Leave it to rest for seven days and then serve ice-cold.