Perhaps you have seen a certain large, oblong fruit that looks like a big lemon, laying about in the shelves of our produce section. And maybe you have wondered, “What is that, a mutant lemon? What do I do with it?”
The fruit in question is called a citron, and it is indeed, the granddaddy of lemons, the original lemon from which many other, more familiar cultivars have been developed through the centuries, either through mother nature’s natural selection or through the tinkering of botanists. It’s name, the citron, may be a little confusing to us as we know that in French, citron means lemon, so this fruit is also known as the cédrat, and just to keep you on your toes, we will use both names when discussing it.
The citron is thought to be native to southeast Asia and or India, and made its way to the Persian Gulf and eventually the lands of the Mediterranean. Depictions of it appear in the temples of ancient Egypt, and it has been mentioned in the Bible and the writings of historians like Pliny the Elder and Theophrastus.
When you consider the citron, you are looking at a true original; in ancient Greece, the citron was used as an antidote to certain poisons, and it has been used in seafaring nations to combat nausea and vomiting. It’s high vitamin C content helps to rid patients of parasites, and it has been used to ward off scurvy. The cédrat, also possesses a wonderful lemony perfume, and its thick outer rind, known as the flavedo is fat with essential oils that have been harvested for their natural, invigorating perfumes and made into a wide variety of skin care and fragrance products.
This is all good and well, you say, but what do you do with this fruit when you bring it home? Though it looks like you could get a pint of lemonade from a single citron, unlike its great-grandchild, the lemon, the citron does not really posses much juice; its pulp is actually quite a letdown. The real treasure of the citron is its thick inner white pith, also known as the albedo. This pith is prized for its delicate flavor, and is used to make jam and pickles, and, chopped up and candied , it is that fruit you often see used in fruitcakes.
But our favourite way to eat the cédrat is simply to slice it as thinly as possible with your mandoline and eat it as a salad. Just dress it with a little olive oil and a light seasoning of salt and pepper. It has a subtle sweetness, a little tangy with a hint of bitter lemon from the rind. This little salad is refreshing, and served cool, makes a lovely hors d’oeuvre or salad to enjoy on a summer afternoon.