How do lemons, a village named Menton, and French cuisine go together? Divinely!
When one visits the French Riviera one immediately thinks of azure waters, blue skies, and hot temperatures. Also, you might think of French wines, lavender fields, and French cuisine. But, did you ever think of all those beautiful bright lemons that you see at the French markets? If not, you should. Lemons have played a big role in French kitchens since the early 15th century.
Lemons in Provence are called “The Golden Fruit”. In fact, in Southern France between the sea and the mountains, the countryside is a forest of lemon trees. Every home will have lemon trees growing in their gardens or perhaps in a huge terracotta pot on their stone patios.
A Little History
It’s believed that citrus fruits came to France probably from China. The lemons almost for sure reached southern France with the Phoenicians, hundreds of years ago before the Greeks and Romans arrived in France. Early Mediterranean seafarers always carried lemons on board to fight off that dreaded scurvy on their long sea voyages. This was way before we knew the benefits of vitamin C.
Menton – a village of Lemons!
Where are the most famous lemons grown in Provence? Why of course, it would have to be the village of Menton, France. Le Citron de Menton is grown in exceptional terroir (land) in a gentle climate and farmed by traditional farming methods. These traditional farming methods produce an oval-shaped lemon, highly fragrant and mildly acidic. The lemons are always picked by hand and never undergo any type of chemical treatment.
Each year since 1934, Menton has organized the “Fête du Citron”. For three weeks you can observe elaborate giant sculptures in intricate patterns all made out of lemons and other citrus fruits. If you are in Provence in February don’t miss this “Fête”.
French Cuisine et le citron
You cannot have French cuisine without lemons. Without a doubt, the lemon is the most important fruit in the French kitchen. Imagine a French pasta, a French baked good, salad dressings, marinades, desserts, and cocktails without lemons! Try to imagine the taste of fish dishes without lemons and finally what about fruits and vegetables that need acid to retain their colors. No, it just doesn’t work. There are many different types of lemons grown in the Provence region of France. For us, we are mostly interested in the “Citron” (lemon), the “Citron- Vert” (lime) and of course, The “Citron-de-Menton”. The French say, “Tout est bon dans le citron”, meaning all parts of the lemon are good. A French chef will use everything in the lemon including the pulp, juice, and peeling to make their signature dish.
Jackdaw Journeys Favorite Salad Dressing
Here at Jackdaw Journeys, we have a favorite salad dressing from “Bon Apetit”, made with a whole small lemon. This dressing is not only a delicious addition to your salad but makes a delightful marinade for proteins like chicken as well. Try this simple but delicious dressing and bring a taste of Provence to your table!
Whole Lemon Thyme Salad Dressing
- 1 small organic lemon (washed and dried)
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 2 medium garlic cloves (finely minced)
- 1 teaspoon fleur de sel or kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup of good extra virgin olive oil
- Cut both ends off of the lemon and discard.
- Thinly slice the lemon, discarding seeds as you go.
- Finely chop lemon slices and place in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid.
- Add all other ingredients and shake well.