December 9, 2013

When Lemon Trees Flew

Just before the first hard frost, all the potted lemons that dazzle our garden must be moved into the limonaia, a glass-fronted room where they spend the winter in sunlight but protected.  Because of the scaffolding around Bramasole, the passage from the  front of the house, where they all reside, to the limonaia was partially blocked–not enough room for the specially-made lemon cart to pass.  Don’t worry about any Italian crisis, they are the most inventive people on earth!  We arrive to find the gardener loading a tree onto a pallet.



Then we notice that the pallet is attached to the crane, which has been used to haul up roof tiles during the restoration.  NO!  Lift off!


Soon, the pot is flying across the garden. Up, Up! “Where’s Fellini now that we need him?” I ask the gardener who has devised this unlikely scene. How surreal on this foggy morning. “Magic realism!” Ed says. A few tourists in the road below are laughing and applauding. Our neighbor stops his motorcycle and shakes his head.  Crazy Americans!  But we didn’t think of it!  Soon the pot is soaring.

Then it comes safely to rest near the limonaia. They repeat this fifteen times.  Not a mishap. I was imagining a lemon tree falling from the sky!

Before they’re muscled into the lemonaia–these pots weigh a lot–I harvest all the ripe lemons, then the pots are crowded in together. Each pot has a mark on it to show that spot faces the sun.  All winter, you can slip in among the pots and find a lemon, smell the tight aromatic blossoms, and feel your hair curl from the humidity generated by so many leaves. Fabio, the man with the red glove is just SO good. What a bold idea!

The lemon may be my favorite ingredient in the kitchen.  For the quickest pasta, I love the crab and lemon spaghetti (page 85) in THE TUSCAN SUN COOKBOOK. It’s light and unusual, as good a choice for a first course at an elaborate dinner as for an instant family meal. For the holidays, I suggest the lemon cake (page 210), a family favorite and I’ve made it a million times.  It’s a lovely gift, as is a jar of seasoned salt (page 24) with a half of a lemon blended into it.

Someone just gave me a jar of their persimmon and five spice marmalade and I will serve it with some aged pecorino.  The homemade gifts are the best.  They just have a lot more heart than those acquired by “proceed to checkout.”  I would love to hear what you’re giving from your house.  I just took a pan of pecans out of the oven.  The easiest gift imaginable: Arrange a pound of this season’s pecans in a single layer on a baking pan. Dot with a stick of butter, and sprinkle with salt.  Roast at 350 for five minutes, watching them every minute, and turning them over twice to coat them with butter.  Nothing is easier to burn than nuts.  Marvelous to serve with drinks, along with some cheese straws.  I think most people have one thing they find irresistible during the holidays. Mine has, since childhood, remained roasted pecans. Maybe it’s because I was made to pick up the nuts in our back yard, and to help shell them. At least there was a big reward.  Let me know what you’re finding irresistible!