The “fruit of beautiful trees” in Sicily’s winter markets

27 April, 2013

“And you shall take on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days!” Leviticus 23:40.

IMG_2239These huge, slightly bizarre looking, lemon-like fruit are a constant presence in Sicily’s winter markets. Piles and piles of them: intensely, brilliantly yellow.  I was curious, but never imagined they might be of such ancient lineage or poetic association.  “The fruit of beautiful trees” –  possibly only those familiar with the Feast of the Temples, one of Judaism’s three annual pilgrimage festivals, would know that this refers to the citron – the slightly bizarre, overgrown ‘lemons’ that appear in such abundance on Sicily’s market stalls.

They may continue to look like slightly bizarre, overgrown  lemons, but for me they will now always be “the fruit of beautiful trees”.   Maybe a rose by any other name would not smell as sweet!

But what to do with “the fruit of beautiful trees”?    The citron is quite unlike an orange or lemon – it is almost all pith, with only a small amount of flesh at the centre and very little juice.  It’s often used for candied citron peel, an ingredient in many Italian sweets, including panettone and Sicily’s famous cannoli – and in English Christmas puddings. But that’s not where all the piles of citron in the market are destined.  Here are some of the other ways it is used.

IMG_2237First, it can be eaten just as it is – and it’s delicious.  I was introduced to it by a friend who produced a citron after a lunch of Sicilian sausages and orange and fennel salad.  She cut the citron into slices of the white pith, with just a little of the flesh of the fruit attached.   Some people, she said, like to sprinkle the slice with a little salt, but I enjoyed it just as it was – it has a very delicate citrus flavour. You can also make a salad from the white part of the fruit, sliced and tossed in oil and lemon juice dressing.  And I’m told there’s a bonus – it’s very helpful for reducing cholesterol.

Then you can make citron jam – which I have had served at the end of a meal with pecorino cheese.

Finally, you can make a citron liqueur  –  which is known as the ‘noble cousin of limoncello’,  because it is more delicate in flavour; but possibly also, I now think, because of its heritage.

Here is a recipe I’ve been given – without any personal guarantee, as my citron peel is still soaking in alcohol.

Citron liqueur


3 citron (should be about 100 gr of rind)

500 ml alcohol   (here, you can readily buy alcohol for the purpose – you can also use vodka, although some people say it has its own flavour, so is not as good for this as pure alcohol).

500gr sugar

500 ml water


Wash the citron carefully and dry well.  Then remove the yellow skin with a vegetable peeler so as not to include any of the white pith, which would make the liqueur bitter.  There should be no white bits remaining.   The smoother the skin of the citron, the easier this will be.

Cut the skin into pieces and put in a glass jar (preferably dark glass) with well fitting lid.  Pour the alcohol over and close tightly.  Leave in a cool dark place for 40 days to macerate.  Shake each day.

When the peel has macerated, put the sugar and water into a saucepan and bring to the boil until the sugar has completely dissolved.  Leave to cool.

Remove the citron peel and filter the alcohol using a very fine sieve or muslin or a paper coffee filter.  Add the filtered alcohol to the syrup and bottle, preferably in a dark glass bottle.  Leave for 40 days before using.

Then chill and keep in freezer


7 Responses to “The “fruit of beautiful trees” in Sicily’s winter markets”

  1. jan Says:

    thanks so much ‘kate’. nice to see you back blogging – perhaps some inspiration from ‘downunder! as always an interesting story

    • kateludlow Says:

      Thank you! I’d like to think so, but afraid erratic posting on my part just reflects lamentable lack of self-discipline! Improvement is a work-in-progress, not yet showing huge results!

  2. TTFN Says:

    The potion you have described sounds delectable but has a whiff of alchemy about it. Please do wear your hard hat and safety glasses.

    • kateludlow Says:

      Well, mission complete without hard hat or safety glasses. Now I have to wait another 40 days before it’s really ready, but a preliminary sample suggests it could be worth the wait!

  3. Sally Says:

    When is tasting day?

    • kateludlow Says:

      Well … it’s now in the freezer and I’ve just had a little informal taste! It’s very successful I think – in small measure, as it seems quite strong. I’ll bring a sample and we can have a more formal tasting.

    • kateludlow Says:

      Well … it’s now in the freezer and I’ve just had a little informal taste! It’s very successful I think – in small measure, as it seems quite strong. I’ll bring a sample and we can have a more formal tasting.

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