Such is the truly horrifying state of Cardiff, of Wales, of the UK, of Europe and indeed of the entire planet from pole to pole…and such is the ever-accelerating momentum of the mind-bogglingly wicked and stupid man-made catastrophe…and such is the sheer enormity of the damage and destruction to every single facet and nook and cranny of the eco-sphere…and such is the frightening toxification of every conceivable aspect of human affairs, from politics and society through to inter-relationships, intellectual abilities, subconscious impulses and human nature itself…such is the overwhelming awfulness of all this and more, I can barely cope with living through it on a day-to-day basis, let alone write about any of it. And that’s why this blog is increasingly given over to what might be termed ‘escapist’ material; safely distant Cardiff yesterdays, throwaway skittishness, obscurantist abstractions, football digressions, lightweight cultural dabblings, that sort of thing. Not that there’s anything wrong with escapism – perhaps all writing, and indeed every art form, is intrinsically escapist…
“You’re a proper lemon,” my mother used to say to me as a boy, a sharpish rebuke when I’d done something particularly gauche or shown excessive timidity (it didn’t have the desired effect: I remain both gauche and timid). The phrase, like so many others in the ever-changing English lexicon of colloquialisms, has long fallen into disuse. Originally it must have been coined simply because of the colour of lemons, for the same reason “yellow” as an adjective came to mean “cowardly”. This negative, suspicious approach to the colour yellow has many manifestations in English culture, from the reluctance of sports teams to wear it right through to the out-and-out racism and paranoia of the “yellow peril” (still apparent to this day, as shown by the recent attacks on random, presumed-Chinese people in response to news of the coronavirus). Yet in the natural world, from the allure of gold to the life-giving glory of sunshine, yellow is unequivocally a good thing, whilst for gardeners and horticulturalists, not to mention pollen-seeking insects, it is perhaps the most appreciated of all colours, if only because of its brazen look-at-me dazzle. And if ever a plant represented yellowness in the best possible light, it has to be Citrus limon, the lemon itself.
Native to the humid tropical and sub-tropical regions of north-east India, lemons were introduced to Europe 2,000 years ago and have been cultivated throughout the Arab world and the Mediterranean area for 1,000 years. By the 15th century they were known in northern Europe, but because our cold, overcast climate could never provide the summer heat the tender, spiny tree needs to fruit they have always had to be imported. These days they come to the supermarket shelves from Spain, Italy, Turkey and north Africa, grown year-round on an industrial scale in vast polytunnels, sprayed in anti-fungal, anti-pest, anti-blemish toxic chemicals and bagged up in non-biodegradable yellow plastic netting to look more alluring. I freely admit to being one of those annoying, sanctimonious goodie-goodies who will only buy them if they’re unwaxed, organic and unpackaged (it ain’t elitism; it’s just not wanting to eat crap); but even a bog-standard lemon can’t help but be fantastic when it’s cut in half and you squeeze out that cheek-puckeringly acidic, vitamin-loaded, sensationally sour juice. I find myself adding lemon juice to just about everything I cook, savoury or sweet, and it always seems to beneficially adjust/correct/balance the dish. Most of all though, having an incorrigible sweet tooth, I use lemon in puddings. My favourite by far, because it’s so easy, infallible, quick and delicious is this:
Serves four sensible, civilised eaters or one greedy pig
600ml (1 pint) double cream
100g (3½oz) caster sugar
zest and juice of 3 unwaxed lemons
1 Gently heat the cream, sugar, lemon zest and juice in a saucepan, stirring occasionally, until hot but not boiling, all the sugar has dissolved and it is beginning to thicken
2 Remove from the heat and leave to stand for 5 minutes
3 Pour into a bowl
4 Put the bowl in the fridge, uncovered, until the pudding is cold and set
That’s it! For a few quid and minimal effort you’ve got a sophisticated taste-bomb delicacy to really impress the Al-Anon support group when it’s your turn to have ’em round for supper! It knocks socks off better-known versions like Sicilian Lemon Pudding, which requires egg yolks and cornflour to do the thickening, or the very similar Lemon Posset, which overloads the sugar and underloads the lemon to miss the whole point of lemon’s palate-scouring uniqueness. Note that when using the zest unwaxed lemons are essential or else you’ll be eating, well, wax actually. Zesting is straightforward: do it before cutting the lemon in half and squeezing out the juice (d’oh!), use a cheese-grater or sharp peeler, and try not to extract the white pith with the skin. At this point I could say don’t take the pith, but that would be thilly and thelf-indulgent…
Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus!
Picture: Nick Youngson/Alpha Stock Images