Saturday, March 12, 2016

Citron – The Lemon. The Lemon, the Lime, the Citron, the Kaffir Lime and the Pomelo in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Photograph courtesy of liz west

Citron Vert – Lime; Cedrat – Citron; Combava – the Kaffir Lime; Chadec – Pomelo; Citron-Caviar - Lemon Caviar.
Without any doubt, the lemon is the most significant fruit in the French kitchen even though the lemon did not originate in France. France has taken advantage of the lemon’s culinary potential; try and imagine fish dishes without lemon or many sauces without lemon or even some meat marinades without lemon. Imagine the taste of fruits and vegetable that need an acid to retain their color, and have been touched by vinegar instead of a lemon. Probably 50% or more of French cakes and other desserts include lemon or écorce de citron, lemon zest, in their recipes.
The citron, the lemon on French menus:
Blancs de Poulet au Citron avec Riz aux Petits Légumes – Chicken breast cooked with lemons and served with rice and young vegetables.

Lemon cheesecake topped with lemon curd, blackberries and blueberries.
Citron Pressé - Freshly squeezed lemon juice served with ice-cold water and sugar on the side. You may say that fresh lemon juice and water is a drink that you could have anywhere, and that may be true. Nevertheless, in France, you will learn the effect of a citron pressé, drunk slowly, on a hot day, while watching the world go by from a sidewalk café. Then a Citron Pressé has an effect that can only be described as mystical. I have made citron pressé and drunk citron pressé in many lands, and in many situations. Nevertheless, the terroir of France does something to a citron pressé that is very special.

 Citron Pressé 
Côtes d’Agneau Marinées au Garam Masala, Gingembre et Citron - Lamb chops prepared with garam masala, ginger, and lemon. 
Gâteau au Citron Meringué – A cake with a lemon meringue.
Sauté de Calamars sur Carpaccio de Chorizo et ses Légumes Marinés au Zeste de Citron - Lightly fried calamari, squid,  on a Carpaccio of chorizo pork sausages and vegetables marinated and flavored with lemon zest.
Une Tranche de Citron A slice of lemon

Lemon slices.
Lemons came from Asia; probably from China.  When the lemon reached Africa is disputed, but we know that the ancient Egyptians were using and growing lemons as a food supplement and as antiseptic hundreds of years before the Romans and Greeks.  The lemon almost certainly reached Southern France via the Phoenicians, the Mediterranean Wholesalers, hundreds of years before the Greeks and Romans arrived in France. 

The lemon is an Old World Export to the New World as Columbus took the lemon to the New World, and that was before anyone had realized that the lemon could prevent scurvy on long sea voyages.  When the British made India a colony they found that the lemon was already there; lemons went well with the gin the British bought from the Dutch.

The lemon becomes important in trade long before vitamin C was discovered.  Then Scottish-born Doctor James Lind (1716-1794) showed the British Navy that citrus fruits, eaten during long sea voyages prevented scurvy. The British Navy adopted this proven remedy very quickly; forty years later! 
The lemon is the result of a cross-pollination between the cédrat, the citron, and the citron vert, the lime; that came about naturally thousands of years ago. The botanists assume that a bee made a mistake and voila we have the lemon. (More about the cédrat, the citron, the lime and the kaffir lime at the end of this post).

France’s most famous lemons are the Citron de Menton – These acclaimed lemons that are grown around the town of Menton on France’s Mediterranean coast up against the Italian border. Menton has a unique micro-climate that is perfect for many tropical fruits. There is also much more to Menton than just lemons; Menton is in the département of Alpes-Maritimes, the Côte d'Azur, Provence and for those that gamble just about 10 km (6 miles) from Monte Carlo. Walk in the other direction from Menton and in less than 1 km (3/4 of a mile) you are in Italy and 35 km (22 miles)  from San Remo. You can walk across the border which is lined with shops and without passport control.
The citron, the lemon, in the languages of France’s Neighbors:
(Catalan -  llimera or llimoner), (Dutch -  citroen), (German – zitrone), (Italian - limon ), (Spanish -  limon or imonero).

Citron-Caviar - Lemon Caviar.

Citron - Caviar -  A small Australian fruit correctly called the Australian Finger Lime but most often seen on menus as Lemon-Caviar.  The thin fruits come in a variety of colors and in sizes from 4 - 8 cm (1.6” – 3.15”) long. The fruits contain their juice in small capsules that will burst in the mouth with a lemon-lime flavor and that is the source of the name lemon caviar. Despite the taste and the name, the fruit is not a citrus fruit.
Citron  Combava or Citron Kéfir  - Kaffir Lime
Citron  Combava, Citron Kéfir and Cumbaba- The Asian citrus fruit mostly called kaffir lime in English. The rind and the juice of the kaffir lime is used in many Asian dishes and French Creole dishes, especially in the French overseas departments of Martinique and Reunion. The kaffir lime is a small bumpy green fruit; most are less than 5cmm, (2”) in diameter.

Carpaccio de Bar de Ligne et Caviar et Caviar au Citron Combava – A Carpaccio of wild European Sea Bass marinated in the juice of Kaffir Lime and served with caviar.

Kaffir limes
Crème Brulée Vanille au Citron Vert Combava  - Vanilla Crème Brulee flavored with Kafir Lime.
Lisette de Nos Côtes Marinée, Citron Combava, Céleri Rave- A young mackerel from the coast marinated in the juice of the Kaffir Lime and served with celery root, Celeriac.
The citron combava, the kaffir lime, in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan - combava), (Dutch - mauritius papeda), (German - kaffernlimette), (Italian – combava), (Spanish - lima kafir).

Citron Vert – Lime

Citron Vert The lime; the fruit that gave the British their nickname, Limeys.  When the British Navy went to sea, they took lemons and limes to prevent scurvy. All the other seafaring nations caught on to the benefits of lemons and limes at a later date, but by that time the name Limey had stuck with the British.

Anneaux d’Ananas Farcis à la Crème Citron Vert Gingembre - Pineapple rings filled with lime and ginger sauce.

Carpaccio de St Jacques au Citron Vert – A Carpaccio of scallops marinated in lime.
Tartare de Thon au Citron Vert A Tuna Tartar flavored with lime.
Sorbet Citron Vert – A lime sorbet.

Lime and pear sorbet.
Limes are no longer essential on long sea voyages but in the French kitchen, they remain irreplaceable for the taste they add to many dishes. 

Citron Meyer - The Meyer lemon. A cross between a lemon and an orange or a mandarin. The cross originated in China the home of all citrus fruits 

The lime in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan - llimes dolces ), (Dutch - limoen ), (German - limette),( Italian - lima, limetta ), (Spanish -  lima).

Citronnée  - Lemon flavored.

Citronnier, Limonier or  Citrus Limon – The lemon tree.

Cédrat  – The Citron
Cédrat (Cedrat) – The Citron; this fruit’s English name complicates matters for English speakers as the French for a lemon is also Citron.
The cédrat, the citron, is mostly used in France for confitures, jams; sometimes it is added to other dishes and pastries as its lemon aroma is stronger than most lemons. There are quite a few members of this family, and they mostly do look like large lemons; citrons have a strong lemon smell but very little taste. The peel of a citron is thick and historically it was valued for the oils in its skin.

The cedrat, the citron.
Saint-Jacques Marinées Comme un Carpaccio au Zeste de Cédrat, Salade d'Endives et Legumes – Scallops marinated like a Carpaccio and flavored with the zest of the citron. Served with an endive salad and vegetables.
Canard Colvert Sauvage, Infusé de Citron Cédrat – The wild Mallard duck flavored, infused with the citron.
According to most botanists the citron and the lime preceded the lemon; then after a bee pollinated the wrong tree we received the all-important lemon. The citron, the lemon, and the lime all originated in Asia; whether they originated in India, Persia, Thailand or China is an ongoing discussion among botanists.

We know that the Egyptians already grew and used lemons long before the Greeks or Romans and so it is fair to assume that they also grew citrons. The citron today is often associated with the Jews as it is a fruit used in celebrating their Sukkot festival, the Feast of the Tabernacles. The Israelites probably brought the citron, as well as the lemon and lime, to the Land of Israel when they left Egypt.  (Catalan – poncir), (Dutch - sukadeboom), (German - moschus-zitrone), (Italian - cedro degli Ebrei ), (Spanish - acitrón, ), (Hebrew -etrog).
Chadec - Pomelo 
Chadec or Pomelo – Pomelo; the citrus fruit. The time-honored French tradition has an English sea captain, called Shaddock, bringing the seeds of this fruit from Malaysia to the French Antilles in the French Caribbean. In the French Antilles, the name Shaddock became Chadec.  Today Chadec is used alongside pomelo in French markets and on menus.  Pomelos, today, are grown wherever other citrus fruits may be found and that includes the South of France.
Pomelo in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan - pampelmusa or pomelo). (Dutch -pompelmoes), (German - pampelmusen ), (Italian – pummelo, pomelo),  (Spanish  - cimboa, pampelmusa, pomelo).
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Bryan G. Newman
Copyright 2010, 2016.

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  1. I love this drink :)

  2. Thanks for the comment. I cannot agree more, a Citron Presse in France has magic found nowhere else.