Italy has always held a special place in my heart. Growing up I spent many summer holidays there with my family. On one occassion we traveled the length of the country with our car and tent and then returned by ferry, from Palermo to Genoa. On another occasion we camped at Lake Garda and thought it was a bright idea to paddle out to the island. Lesson learned: we had to be rescued by a motor boat because we completely overestimated the distance. A few years ago, my high school class went on a trip to the Amalfi coast. And the last trip I have been on was probably one of my most memorable ones:
Because my mum was working in Nigeria at the time, Dad and I decided to drive from Budapest to Rome in January. We explored and fell in love with San Gimignano in Tuscany where we ate Brigidini di Lamprecchio, an aniseed flavoured thin wafer. Each evening would bring us to a different trattoria where I would order Pizza bianca rucola e parmigiano or Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino and Dad would get a small carafe of the red house wine. It was one of those trips that you just never forget.
Since then, I've always dreamed of going back, of mingling with the locals and getting to know the people, the food and the culture better. I admire the laid back lifestyle in the south even though I would be much too impatient to live it. And I certainly want a chance to go back to Sorrento, to find some local hotspots and just generally spend more time there.
Sorrento is the place that comes to mind when I think of citrus trees. When we were there we had gotten a little bit lost walking from Meta to the actual city of Sorrento and wanted to take a shortcut. Now, this is probably not something you should be doing without asking for permission, but the easiest way to get where we wanted to go was straight through a garden of lemon trees. The branches were hanging really low and were heavy with the biggest lemons I had ever seen. It was a beautiful sight and the air smelled sweet with just a little tang. When I think of Sorrento I also think of tasting Limoncello in a little corner shop, of drinking it with friends while looking at the sunset and of eating gelato in a café on one of the city's bigger squares.
Reading The Land Where Lemons Grow took me right back to those warm, summery days. I didn't actually know that lemons didn't just grow in the south of Italy, that there were old potted trees in Florence and some even further north! Helena Attlee describes citrus gardens in such detail, that it feels like you were there with her, watching the farmers scuttle away behind trees. You can almost smell the fruit and taste it when you read the descriptions. And it certainly made me want to experiment more with citrus when cooking. I've always loved a little bit of lemon juice in dressings or lemon peel in pancakes, but I've got yet to try slicing up the pit and using it in salads, for example.
The Land Where Lemons Grow was certainly different. It was not at all like any of the other books I have read this year or in the past couple of years for that matter. I tend not to pick up books that outline a history, but ones that combine this history with two of my favourite things: food and travels are a whole different story.
If you have not read this book yet, I suggest you give it a try. Especially if, like me, Italy holds a sweet spot in your heart. I'd absolutely love to hear what your thoughts are and if you have any other, similar books that you can recommend!