Sunday, 2 December 2012

Time for the acid test

I spy with my little eye something beginning with 'l'

It is decision time for the lemon tree in the London garden, after a third night of frost.  It is looking happy, having recovered from the red spider mite infestation contracted when taken indoors last January. See From one pot to another. The campaign of daily brushing and spraying with dilute washing up liquid, combined with acclimatising it back to the outdoors in April, was successful.  New shoots sprouted, white blossom appeared and there will be home-grown lemons for Christmas gin and tonic and smoked salmon. Rather than risking another red spider mite attack in the warm, dry atmosphere of the conservatory kitchen, the plan is to leave it outside all winter, wrapped in a duvet of horticultural fleece.

One of the strange things that happened when the lemon tree began to lose its leaves was that it started to sprout thorns - and quite sharp ones too. This reminds me of friend Meg's comments about fruit picking when she was a girl in the United States, triggered by reading about last year's foraging trip Wild and free. and the embarrassment of riches during our stay in Tuscany. Meg's parents were very early advocates of self-sufficiency,  growing every imaginable fruit and vegetable on their plot in Virginia. Meg recounted how sore her hands got from picking lemons, on account of the thorns.

She grew up in a home with several acres of land, including a small orchard with four or five sour cherry trees, several apples that ripened from late June until latish autumn, a couple of pears and a peach or two. "We also had about an acre of vegetables: radishes, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, peas, squash, green beans, wild and domestic asparagus, black eyed peas, cucumbers, corn, onions, peppers of a few different types, collards, cabbage, cantaloupe, water melon and lettuce when it was not too hot. We had some strawberries, grapes and rhubarb plus lots of wild blackberries and across the creek were wild huckleberries. I am sure I have left something out of this long list, but you can see that I grew up eating lots of fresh vegetables and fruit.

"We also had chickens, ducks, geese and sometimes a few pigs.  Canning, pickling and preserving was always a fun time taking over life for a while each summer, so you can see that very little of our food came from the supermarket. Sometimes friends might join in these activities. We lived on the water, so we fished, clammed, oystered and crabbed too, and in the days before freezers became common, fish had to be shared if too many were caught; therefore, during the summer, fish was almost always for dinner."

Meg goes on to tell me that one lemon tree in a tub will be more than enough for our needs. Apparently she and Bob were unable to cope with the quarterly harvest from the two trees they had when living in Cap Ferrat and regret not selling some of them! I look at the four modest lemons on our precious specimen (one large and one medium yellow, plus two smaller green ones) before retrieving the unwaxed fruit from Waitrose to make a new batch of preserved lemons ready for tagines and celery salads. Maybe next year there will be enough of my own to preserve.  Or maybe we move to Provence....
All my own work, but not my own fruit - yet

Photographs by Sandi.

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