Nothing is more delightful than lemons in Malta, fresh picked ready for a million culinary uses. Another basket of lemons has just made its way over my wall from the neighbour’s large orchard. No, I am not pilfering furtively, sneaking over at night. She catches me on my roof as she does a bit of early spring gardening after what seems like weeks of storms. Could I do with some lemons, she asks. The fruit on her trees is falling fast now in readiness for new buds. Lemons are now just peaking and in glut.
I relish each one. Such a versatile fruit the lemon, one that lends itself to sweet and savoury. Or a mix of the two if you make a tagine; a dish I particularly love and feel we should somehow have in Malta’s native cuisine given our proximity to North Africa. Candied peel is used a lot in our sweets, and lemons find their way into salads, garnishes, dressings and the odd sorbet. But is there a thoroughly Maltese lemon dish that I’ve missed somewhere? One that isn’t a loan from Italy? Comments welcome on that one.
In the meantime, I’m going to try something new with the huge basket load Mary has given me. Preserved lemons. Despite the name, you need not be a god or goddess of the preserving pan to make them. Just slice, add salt and bottle. Of course, you won’t be making summer lemonade with them, but for tagines they’re perfect.
Waste not Malta’s winter food for free I say. And while the lemon is a harvest of winter, its uplifting scent reminds us of summer to come, even if it feels a way off yet!
Photos:Liz Ayling (top).Etcher67 (salted lemons).