Thursday, 18 January 2018

Croatia’s lost lemon mountain

By  Mar 14, 2016

“Well you will need more than just one,” echoed my mother’s voice. “No, one will be just enough for the two of us,” I replied. We were talking over a video call, ah the wonders of modern technology; I can see and talk to my mother on my mobile phone. I still get excited when I hear from friends in Australia or the US over the phone, let alone a video call with my mother.

“You will need five or six to have enough to make two drinks,” she replied. I was making a lemon juice in front of my mother…just in case you hadn’t already guessed what I was doing.

“And why are you taking those oranges,” she asked. It wasn’t an orange; it was a real lemon, a home-grown lemon. I can’t blame her for thinking it was an orange, it was the size of a small baby's head! “This is what a lemon should look like,” I said whilst cutting the monster lemon in half. The aromas as it feel apart was mouth watering. “And with real lemons like this one is enough,” I added.

Of course my mother was right, if I were using those plastic lemons that you find on the shelves of most supermarkets I would have needed half a dozen to make a lemon juice. But these weren’t artificial lemons; these were grown on my neighbour’s tree, monster Zupa lemons! Think skinned, full of juice and jammed packed with vitamin C. What was the real value of this lemon? I don’t mean necessarily in financial terms. How are we not exporting these whopper lemons to the whole world?

Almost every cooking show that I bump into on the television is talking about the value of natural produce. And yet we continue to import plastic lemons from all over the world, shouldn’t we be doing the exact opposite.

I bumped into a top international chef the other day and for an hour he praised the quality of our citrus fruits. “I don’t think in all my years that I have tried such delicious and high quality lemons and oranges,” was the phrase that constantly flowed from his mouth. Of course it isn’t only lemons, Istrian olive oil has just been voted the best in the world, Croatian wines are picking up awards at every turn and cheeses from the region are celebrating success. And yet, for some reason, we continue to import cheap crap that has been produced in a laboratory somewhere. It is beyond me...is it just the price? Somewhere we have lost the real value of the things we produce.

And in some cases not produce. The amount of fruit that is left to fall from the trees, or is feed to pigs, is mindboggling. “I can’t find anyone to help me take the apples to market,” explained a man in Konavle to me last year. Trees upon trees loaded down with succulent apples spread out in front of us, it was heartbreaking to think that these would be left to fall to the ground and eventually be consumed by the earth again. And he couldn’t find help to take the apples to the market; I don’t blame him, far from it, it is the fault of society. We are more than happy to consume bucket loads of tablets, work out in gyms, rub strange oils on our bodies and drink “healthy” cocktails produced by scientists. The answer to most of these ails can be found much closer to home.

This man’s apples are sold for extortionate prices in European capitals, it cheaper to buy champagne, and yet we leave them to fall to the ground. And then look at all the fields that are empty. Guaranteed sunshine, rich soil and a source of fresh clean water are the keys to good produce. We have all that and yet are still growing grass! Madness!

“I am surprised that there isn’t more fruit grown here, from lemons to figs and pomegranates,” added the chef. “You have all the right conditions for success,” he concluded. How could I argue? Every centimetre of every field should be bursting with life...but no...we grow grass.
I have just taken delivery of ten kilos of lemons and eight litres of olive oil, all grown locally. I would have had to remortgage my house to buy this in London. Well firstly I couldn’t even buy it in London even if I wanted to; it just isn’t on the market.

“I told you one would be enough,” I said to my mother as the monster lemon in front of me disintegrated into a lake of juice. “Well that’s cheating,” she replied. “You aren’t using real lemons, that is some kind of hybrid lemon, they shouldn’t be that big,” she added. I beg to differ.

“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison,” said the author Ann Wigmore.

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