|marrakech lemon - citron beldi|
One of my favourite places to shop is EARTH Natural Foods in Kentish Town. It is full of large jars of herbs and spices, sacks of beans and big tubs of dried nuts and fruit. Yes, all of its food is vegetarian, and most of it organic and fairtrade, but this is not a shop that is purely for the sort of people who knit their own lentils. It is an absolute cornucopia of fresh organic fruit and vegetables, artisan bread and cheeses, and interesting oils, vinegars and condiments. It also sells fresh yeast and my favourite bread flour, (miller Nigel Moon's Whissendine Mill, in case you are interested).
The staff at Earth are also a bit of a treasure too; knowledgeable, helpful and quite unflappable. So it wasn't unusual for me to be chatting to one of the guys as I waited in a short queue to pay for my shopping.
“What have you got there?” he asked. I was holding several squashed-looking lumpy orange-yellow citrus fruits.
“Well, I think they are Marrakech Lemons,” I said. “I bought some last year and didn't know what to do with them and I'm afraid they ended up as potpourri.”
“Oh those are Marrakech Lemons,” said the school-marmish lady standing behind me, with an authoratative look that brooked no argument.
“Yes,” I said, “but it says Citron Beldi on the box, not Marrakech Lemons.”
“Oh no, those aren't lemons, they are definitely Bergamot Oranges,” came another bossy voice.
“No, they are definitely not,” I thought firmly to myself, unwilling to get into an argument with a towering yummy mummy with a triple-decker pushchair, a sense of entitlement and Jimmy Choos. Her bobble-hatted child, little Ophelia, was beginning to twist up her face in a way that said “I am about to metamorphose into demon hell spawn and it will be all your fault.” (These days it is not Hoodies you have to worry about but posh kids in Hoxton Bonnets!)
I turned to the young man who was serving me. “I think these are the Citron Beldi. Which sounds like an evil villain in a Danger Mouse cartoon rather than a lemon”. He smiled weakly at me, and said “Well, we just call them posh lemons.”
“So what do you use posh lemons for?” I asked.
“Well anything you might use with a posh lemon.” And that was possibly the best advice I had had all day.
In a previous life, I was a researcher. I love learning new things, ferreting out and extrapolating information. The internet is both my saviour and my downfall. You never know where you are going, even if you know where you want to be and the problem with the internet that there is a lot of information out there is a just plain wrong, passing itself off as something true. The difficulty is in weeding out the chaff from what is actually correct. Sometimes you just have to have a sixth sense about these things.
Which brings me on to Bergamot Oranges and Citron Beldi.
It appears that I am not alone with a sense of confusion about this lemon. The Paris-based food writer, David Lebovitz, has probably written the most informative, (sensible and plausible) piece about this on the internet and has cleared up for me a lot of the confused miasma. Paula Wolfert also clears things up in her glorious book The Food of Morocco.
Essentially there are two popular lemons used in Moroccan cooking, the doqq (Citrus limonum Risso var. pusilla R) and the boussera (Citrus limetta Risso, also known as Limonette de Marrakesh).
They are both thin-skinned and the doqq is considered superior and are preserved in salted lemon juice and used in meat or vegetable tagines and salads. They are the ones that I see in my local Middle Eastern deli. I always thought that the reason that they had a squashed appearance was because of the pickling and preservation process. But no, that's what they look like - small and flattened, like yellow-orange turbans.
Sometimes they are mistaken for Bergamot Oranges, which they are not - these are sour and bitter; often used in marmalades, in Earl Grey Tea or in perfumery and cosmetics.
Which leads me back to Citron Beldi - definitely lemons from Morocco and not the devious cartoon villain I was imagining. For some reason I had thought that the notorious Citron Beldi would make a good dark lord, like the evil Lord Darkness, played beautifully by Alastair McGowan in the comic radio programme ElvenQuest. I'd love to play his sidekick, although having recently had it confirmed that I have a great face for radio, perhaps I could purr my way through the role of Rachella, the evil Kitchen Sorceress - because as a small child once said to me, "Why would you want to be the fairy princess when you could be the wicked witch?" Wise words indeed.