Each year, the festival has a theme reflected in the dazzling sculptures made from oranges and lemons. This year, a celebration of Chinese culture, with the Citron en Chine. Once again, I was over-whelmed by the scale and beauty of the creations in citrus. Thousands of visitors viewed thousands of tons of oranges and lemons during the three week festival. Around the perimeter of Les Jardins Biovès stallholders sold citrus memorabilia and citrus in pots. Last year I bought a Kumquat tree, and it settled in Jennifer Barnaby’s garden close to bitter orange trees. This year, a Meyer Lemon caught my interest, as I rarely see this sweet, floral citrus for sale in markets at home. It was a quick decision, and a Meyer joined the Kumquat. The three fruits on the tree were harvested to add to the haul of citrus destined for my suitcase.
The Lemon Festival was not the only reason for a return visit to the beautiful coastal area in and around Menton. Following a mutually enjoyable marmalade marathon in 2014, Jennifer and I founded the Citrus Atelier; a culinary centre of excellence for citrus. With an inaugural marmalade to make, we were spoilt for choice when considering the flavours. Bitter oranges, sweet oranges, lemons, kumquats and blood oranges were prolific in Jennifer’s garden. We opted for a traditional bitter orange, following the recipe in First Preserves. Alexandra Boyle, from the Jardin des Antipodes, in Menton joined us to make the marmalade.
As the bitter orange marmalade cooled and set in jars, we turned our attention to a new recipe. At the market in Ventimiglia, the previous day, we bought Aranche Pernambuco, a sweet orange and Bergamots. Strips of their intensely bitter peel were cooked separately in water to avoid upsetting the flavour when mixed with lemons and Aranche Pernambuco.
Lemons featured in all the Marmalades we made in Menton. Records of growing and exporting Menton lemons stretch back to the mid 18th century. By the mid 19th century 35 million lemons were exported to England, Germany, Russia and North America. Since 1992, the French National Institute for Agronomic Research ( INRA) has established new orchards and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) is on its way. During a visit to the market in Menton on my last day, a stall from the Association pour la Promotion du Citron de Menton sold lemons and promoted the organisation. With other stops at citrus sellers, Kumquats and Limes were added to the Meyer lemons and bitter oranges . Back home in England, as I created Marmalades for my Menton Collection, the citrus reminded me of the days in Menton and new memories.
Photos by Jennifer Barnaby