Citrus, thanks to what writer Helena Attlee calls their great “suggestibility,” confound the botanist and the shopper alike. What is the difference between a clementine and a mandarin? That was one of the few questions I didn’t ask Helena Attlee when we met recently to talk about citrus in Italy, the subject of her new book The Land Where Lemons Grow. And not just lemons. Attlee writes beautifully about all the citrus and all of Italy, from Lake Garda in the north to Palermo in the south. She covers not merely the tendency of citrus to interbreed and mutate, but also history and economics, culture, cooking and organised crime. Through it all runs a continuous thread that links the very difficulties of growing citrus productively to the desirability of the finished products, on which fortunes and entire communities were built.
The Land Where Lemons Grow proves, as if it needed proving, that food provides a perfect lens through which to view the entire world, as a result of which I had to cut some choice sections from our conversation. That, however, has prompted me to try something new here, which will become apparent in a day or two as I also attempt to tidy up a bit here.
More about Helena Attlee at her website