Forbear of the now ubiquitous lemon, the much larger, more bulbous citron was first recorded by the ancient Egyptians 3,000 years ago, when an impression of the fruit was engraved into the walls of the botanical gardens at the Karnak temple. After that, the Israelites are said to have brought the citron home following their expulsion from Egypt. Ever since, it has formed a central part of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, or the Feast of the Tabernacles.
Thought to be originally from Asia, citron was later imported to Greece and Persia – modern day Iran – and has enjoyed popularity in Western culinary tradition, particularly in Greece and in the preparation of Christmas cakes across Europe and the USA.
Its rind and dense pith makes it a far less succulent proposition than its younger citrus cousins. Unlike the smooth skinned lemon, lime or orange whose segments yield large quantities of juice, it’s the rind of the citron that is the real star – its coarse texture made up of barnacle-like protrusions that contain high quantities of potent oil. This, along with the fruit’s dense pith, can be used for multiple purposes, from the culinary to the medicinal. Combined with sugar and syrup, the rind can be used to create sweet treats and jams; whereas in India and Pakistan, it is widely used in pickles and preserves.
Like all citrus fruits, citron possesses high quantities of vitamin C, known to help fight disease, infection and scurvy, as well as to help maintain the skin’s natural properties and preserve the integrity of blood vessels close to the skin’s surface. Its sweetly tart fragrance was also said by Pliny the Elder to be a natural insect repellent – when the pesky critters come a-buzzing, he prescribes infusing clothes with its rich aroma. Rubbing a few drops of concentrated citron essence into mosquito and insect bites is also said to reduce irritation.
Less refined and elegant than its lemony descendants perhaps, the fragrant notes and bountiful properties of this somewhat oafish fruit earned it an important place in the annals of history, as well as in the Crabtree & Evelyn archive.
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