My aunt Krishnaveni is passionate about her farm . She is always on the look out for unusual seeds and is rather adept at growing them. She makes it a habit to treat me to some of her unusual findings. So, one day what arrived at my doorstep was a very strange looking vegetable ,or was it fruit !? I’m not really a big fan of rough looking mottled surfaced produce ,so I put it aside for later.
She was unsure of the name ,only knew that it belonged to the lime family. The texture seemed that of a kaffir lime , but it was much too elephantine in size to even compare the two. On cutting open , it revealed a very small amount of pulp which was surrounded by a huge amount of hard white flesh. That was quite unlike our regular lemon or limes. The aroma of it though was just heavenly. The whole room filled with a burst of freshness and my hands oh , I just never wanted the perfume to wash off. We are all lime aficionados you see.
After an extensive search on various citrus sites, we finally found our fruit. It is known as the Citron. There are many varieties of it and the peel is the most used part of the fruit. It is primarily used for making candied peel. It’s funny how we are so used to seeing something in it’s preserved form ,that we rarely wonder how it looks in the original. Candied peel otherwise known as Tutti frutti is something we see on Super market shelves or in buns and sponge cakes. I was always under the impression that these were made by candying pumpkin. It is rather an elaborate process where the peel is salted for 40 days ,the brine solution changed every two weeks ,then boiled and cooked in a concentrated glucose solution. David Lebovitz has the recipe for candied citron and that’s what is happening in my kitchen at the moment. The process has to be repeated for 20 minutes , every day for a week. My kitchen is going to smell like a perfumery . Lucky me !
The Indian in me however couldn’t just leave it at that. It’s sour , lemony and we all know what goes with that. I just had to subject some of the pieces to being smothered in chilli powder ,turmeric powder and salt . Added lots of the pulpy juices from the core. Now, I’m going to let the sun work it’s magic for the next 10 days and I will be sure to let you know how that went !
The Citron has it’s origins in the Mediterranean region. It features rather prominently in Jewish customs. In many countries like South America and Spain the pulp is used to make carbonated drinks , to flavor wine and also other liquor. The shrub is not too tall. It grows about 5 or 6 feet in height. The flowers range from pale mauve buds to white flowers depending on the variety. The fruit are quite large and can weigh from 1 to about 4 kilos. The colour goes from a pale green to a light yellow. The pulp in the middle is pale and very tart. But it is a delicious tartness as opposed to a lip puckering one. I have reserved some of those juices to make a zingy salad dressing.
In India it is known by many names. The most commonly known ones are Bara nimbu and Turanj. It is one of the original citrus fruits since ancient times before the existence of the orange and lemon. Siddha medicine refers to it as Kadaranarathai and is used to treat a range of illnesses that affect the liver, kidney and intestines. The botanical name is Citrus Medica owing to it’s medicinal uses. The fruit can also be cut into thin discs and dried. These make for great room deodorizers. They are also known to be used to hang in cupboards to repel insects. The juice is used to clean delicate linen garments which cannot withstand the harshness of commercial detergents.The fruit can grow rather long and can get too heavy for the bough. It needs to be plucked before it reaches that stage.
My aunt says the plant is quite hardy and requires little maintenance. The seeds are white and numerous. They are washed and set out to be sun dried for a few days. I do plan to share these seeds with as many green hands as I possibly can. They are mono embryonic in nature . It would be fun to see whose seeds begin to sprout first. The person who tops my list is of course , Chitra Krishnasamy. Despite her success at nurturing her terrace garden she takes nothing for granted. Her excitement at receiving a packet of seeds is so endearing. A new passion of mine is of seed conservation. That just means to propagate seeds naturally. Like handing over heirloom seeds from the mother plant. The Citron offers me the chance to do just that !